US Should Have Bases in Taiwan
Topic: 1.Military & Defense
Author: Kenneth Wang (王克雄)
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On a peaceful day in the open Pacific Ocean to the east of Taiwan, a US carrier and five accompanying warships were slowly sailing to guard the western Pacific. Another carrier battle group had just returned to its home port in San Diego.

Suddenly, alarms went off as many intercontinental ballistic missiles were launched from the interior of China, flying toward Taiwan. Numerous Chinese warships, carriers, fighter jets, bombers and submarines were fast converging on the US ships.

Not too long after, many missiles, bombs and torpedoes were fired at the US carrier. The surprise to Americans was the number of them — several hundreds, many supersonic and hypersonic, all being timed to arrive at about the same time and from different directions. Unfortunately, the US Navy’s defense systems were overwhelmed, and the US carrier was damaged badly.

We all hope that such a surprise attack will never happen, but this might be the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) strategy to gain air superiority before invading Taiwan.

US carriers cannot stray far from the front lines because their fighter jets need to immediately protect its warships operating in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea. US fighter jets flying from carriers also have a limited combat range. Chinese airplanes and missiles have advantages of quantities and nearby land bases. They will throw everything to knock out US carriers.

The modern threats from a formidable Chinese military are new and have never been encountered by the US Navy. Some military experts have claimed that although US aircraft carriers are extremely large at more than 1,000 ft (300m) long and as tall as a 20-story building, Chinese hypersonic missiles would not be able to aim at them accurately because they can sail at around 35 mph (55kph). Such wishful claims have not been tested in a battle.

The US Navy depends on Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Systems to protect its carriers and battleships from missile attacks. On July 24, 2021, the US Navy conducted one of its most complex tests, attempting to intercept two short-range ballistic missiles simultaneously. The results were somewhat disappointing, with one target destroyed but the second unconfirmed as being hit. Can Washington safely protect its carriers against hundreds of enemy missiles arriving at the same time?

A new Ford-class carrier will cost an enormous US$13 billion and carry a crew of about 5,000 for ship and air wings. There are too many eggs in this basket, making US carriers an obvious target for the PLA. If one US carrier is sunk or critically damaged by the Chinese, would Washington send in more carriers or start a nuclear war?

It is Washington’s responsibility to avoid wars by applying enough deterrent. The US has been able to keep the peace for more than 50 years by placing a substantial number of forces in Europe and South Korea. Where can the US deploy such forces in East Asia to deter an invasion of Taiwan by China?

Taiwan is a large island of 14,000sq miles (36,000 sq km)with 275 mountain peaks rising more than 9,800 ft(3,000 meters). It has 13 military air bases. If hit by enemy missiles, a carrier can be sunk or damaged badly, while air bases on land have several runways and can be repaired quickly. The US should place enough fighter jets and missiles in Taiwan, and those assets could be well sheltered inside mountain caves. US air power will be readily available to protect its battleships in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea.

Washington has refrained from stationing US forces in Taiwan, but the situation has changed drastically due to China’s aggressive actions toward Taiwan, Japan’s Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyutai Islands 釣魚台in Chinese) and India’s borders, in addition to illegally turning reefs into military bases in the South China Sea.

Chinese ambition was described clearly by former US Vice President Mike Pence in a speech at the Hudson Institute on Oct. 4, 2018, saying that “China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies.” The US cannot afford to lose East Asia, particularly Japan, and has no choice but to prepare to confront China.

Taiwan has one of the better defenses in Asia. If Taiwan cannot fend off a Chinese invasion, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam would easily succumb under Chinese military coercion. China will move long-range missiles, fighter jets, bombers and such onto the military bases in Taiwan and launch submarines from the deep-sea harbors on its east coast.

Under the threat of Chinese carrier battle groups and nuclear submarines, both carrying nuclear warheads and roaming the whole Pacific Ocean, it would become dangerous for US warships to patrol the western Pacific and they might be forced to retreat to the eastern Pacific to protect America’s homeland.

Several US politicians discourage stationing American forces in Taiwan by claiming that it will encourage Taiwanese to declare independence. Taiwan is already an independent country under the name “Republic of China” and its people elect their own president and legislators. Although there are some Taiwanese within the movement for independence who want to change the country’s name to the “Republic of Taiwan,” the major political parties and most Taiwanese do not want to provoke a Chinese invasion just for the sake of a new name.

Facing modern Chinese military power, particularly its hypersonic ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines, Washington should shift its fighter jets from carriers to land bases in Taiwan, as US battleships depend on their critical air cover.

Taiwan should not be left to fight the Chinese PLA alone. By placing US forces and missiles in Taiwan, the joint efforts of Taiwan and the US would certainly defeat a Chinese invasion. As a result, China would not risk invading Taiwan and a war would be prevented.

(This article was published in Taipei Times on July 31, 2021.)

Posted: August 6, 2021