- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2001

In the aftermath of the spy plane incident, the signs of the new Cold War with China are unmistakable. The downgrading of military-to-military contacts with the PRC is merely the latest.

Despite all the backing and forthing, this half-measure is surely just a way station on the road to a complete break. So too the belated decision to suspend the Army´s spectacularly ill-conceived plan to issue its soldiers with black berets made in China.

More serious was the statement by President Bush that American military power would be used to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China. That declaration alone raises the issue of what must be done to reform the Taiwanese military into a force capable of countering the rapid modernization of the People´s Liberation Army (PLA).

With events moving so rapidly, the recent decision to sell arms to Taiwan already needs to be re-evaluated. That sale was notable not only for what it contained a virtual grab bag of military hardware but also for what was excluded, such as the hi-tech Aegis-class destroyer. But because it was never requested, the current arms package is also missing a more vital ingredient: the American know-how needed to link the separate capabilities of Taiwan´s individual hardware and weapons into the "system of systems" required by 21st-century warfare.

Ever since Desert Storm, the American military has been transfixed by the revolution in military affairs (RMA), the linkage of information, sensor and weapons technologies into a deadly synergy that is more than the sum of its parts. Most of the world´s military establishments have intently studied the American example and especially the marriage of RMA theory and practice during the Kosovo conflict.

Notable among the kibitzers are the Chinese, everlastingly convinced that the precision bombing of their embassy in Belgrade was no accident. The PLA has studied these lessons well, recently adding its own twist with what its practitioners call "unrestricted warfare" involving terror, cyber and even ecological attacks.

The RMA, however, has largely bypassed Taiwan. While not otherwise engaged throwing open the doors of our nuclear laboratories to Chinese scientists, the Clinton administration was also busily pursuing the extensive military-to-military contacts with the PLA now under intense review by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. By contrast, the Taiwanese military was simply frozen out barred from the forums, seminars and war college courses in which RMA concepts were being explored, prevented from observing those operational experiments in which those concepts were being hammered into reality.

The result is a Taiwanese military that neither understands the RMA nor has overcome the 50-year legacy of Kuomintang military leadership. Chiang Kai-shek and his generals only understood land warfare and they washed up on Taiwan after a second-place finish to the PLA even in that arena. Ever since, their emphasis has been on land defenses, rather than sea or air, and even less on the need to unite these three basic forms of warfare into an effective combination of arms.

Their requests for American weaponry have been correspondingly random a tank here or a fighter there. That piecemeal approach has led to some obvious seams in the island´s defenses. During a 1999 visit, a group of us were taken to an air base where the Taiwanese proudly showed off their shiny new American F-16s. The aerobatics seemed impressive enough until one of the former U.S. Air Force fighter pilots in our group noticed that the missile rails on their aircraft were as unblemished as when they had left the factory. "That means they aren´t doing live firing," he said quietly, "and if they aren´t doing live firing, then they probably aren´t doing a lot of other things they need to do if they plan to fight outnumbered and win."

The realistic training he had in mind is one of the missing links that must be addressed if Taiwan´s defenses are to be effectively modernized. Others include the use of night-vision equipment, preparation for chemical warfare, modern air and missile defenses and better force-protection measures for Taiwan´s hard-pressed defenders.

Important as they are, these improvements are secondary to the need to improve Taiwan´s ability to command and control its forces air, land and sea. Taiwan´s military leaders appear to understand that the success of any Chinese attack is likely to be decided on, under and over the sea lanes adjacent to their island. But they do not yet appear to have grasped the idea that the ability to "shoot deep" presupposes the ability to "see deep." And "seeing deep" is something Taiwan cannot now do.

Geography and technology can combine to produce a solution to this problem far more rapidly than building new Aegis destroyers. Running down the spine of Taiwan are mountains that rise above 14,000 feet. This quintessential high ground is uniquely well-suited for the installation of overlapping, long-range electronic surveillance systems covering any conceivable Chinese approaches. American military and industrial expertise can also help integrate that data into the common operating picture needed to unite the efforts of Taiwan´s defenders. Accomplish that and it is possible to think of Taiwan itself as an aircraft carrier and an unsinkable one at that.

Because Germany in 1938 was neither the first nor the last military power to use a surrogate to test out a new generation of weaponry, it is also possible to think of Taiwan as a kind of applied battle laboratory. The timing could hardly be better because some of the new strategic concepts now being formulated by Mr. Rumsfeld will certainly assume China as a potential adversary. Taiwan thus offers a way to test those concepts in the real world but with deterrence rather than conquest as the objective. All in all, a superb opportunity for realistic testing and a deliciously appropriate way to stick it to the Chinese for their recent and continuing beastliness over the incident on Hainan Island.

Kenneth Allard is a former Army colonel and an MSNBC military analyst.


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