Recent reports suggest that Beijing has been closely observing Russia’s battlefield strategy to avoid making the same mistakes in Taiwan. While the Russian Air Force has traditionally been known to be formidable, and China’s own air force has fighter jets it secured from Russia, Beijing is still set for a better air performance than Moscow.
However, the Kremlin does not control the skies over Ukraine despite deploying cutting-edge fighter jets such as the Su-30, Su-35, and MiG-31s, etc. Ukraine has an inventory of old Soviet-era jets, many of which were pulled out of storage.
In contrast, Taiwan has advanced F-16 Vipers acquired from the United States. When Lockheed Martin delivers the 66 F-16s in the next three years, the Taiwanese Air Force will have more than 200 fourth-generation fighter jets.
The F-16 Viper aircraft in the Taiwanese Air Force can be outfitted with AGM-84 Harpoon, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-154 JSOW, and SLAM-ER missiles, which are more advanced than the Ukrainian fighter jets. However, despite having modern fighter jets, Taiwan will fare worse than Ukraine if China launches an invasion.
Ukraine has kept Russian aircraft at risk with ground-based air defenses, including modern Western systems, obsolete Soviet-era equipment, and man-portable air defenses. The airspace is saturated, and several Russian warplanes and helicopters have been shot down.
However, Taiwan’s air defenses might be unable to stop a Chinese PLA Air Force (PLAAF) onslaught. According to Pentagon analysts, under “high-volume PLA fires” from China’s short-range ballistic missile system, distributed over numerous moving launch platforms, Taiwan’s present tactic of launching two air defense missiles per target “would be strained.”
Currently, Taiwanese pilots practice shooting at single, stationary targets. Furthermore, Taiwan’s missile warning exercises are overly scripted and insufficient to prepare the public and civil authorities for “a real-world event.”
Taiwan’s officials withholding air defense equipment early in a fight to save them for later is another big concern. Independent analysts believe such a delay would be problematic given that Taiwan is within striking distance of over 40 Chinese air bases.
Further, the Joint Staff Intelligence directorate of the Pentagon claims that Taiwan’s air defense units lack a “common operating picture” or the capacity to know where all units are at any given time. They also lack secure radios that are compatible. Since the targets are not separated, there is a greater chance that numerous units will fire on the same target, causing a waste of missiles.
According to one paper, even with first-strike orders or immediate air threats, Taiwan’s air defense commanders may hesitate to engage manned aircraft due to fear of escalation.
China has continued ramping up its military capabilities while asserting that it will unite the self-ruled island state with the Chinese mainland. Chinese fighter jets and bombers regularly enter Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) to intimidate the island nation. With tensions rising continually, the PLAAF warplanes now frequently cross the median line.
Taiwan has adopted an asymmetrical warfare strategy against China to thwart a potential invasion. It has also extended the period of compulsory conscription that the Pentagon documents believe would not be a game changer.
Last month, Taiwan conducted extensive military drills in which F-16Vs, Mirage 2000-5s, the domestically made F-CK-1 Ching Kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), the P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft, and the Navy’s S-70C anti-submarine helicopters and drones participated from military bases around the country.
The US administration has made concerted efforts to force Taiwan to strengthen its defenses, notably with non-conventional weapons like anti-ship missiles and other cutting-edge equipment more likely to survive a Chinese strike, Taipei is also in the process of procuring Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the United States.
However, the assessment made by the Pentagon regarding Taiwan’s defenses and military preparedness is not encouraging for the narrative put forth by Taiwanese leadership. The leaked documents were part of a series allegedly leaked by US air national guardsman Jack Teixeira on April 16, coinciding with the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting to discuss a shared China strategy. Additionally, these revelations about Taiwan’s military preparedness come at a crucial time, with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently conducting a three-day military exercise called “Joint Sword,” simulating the encirclement of Taiwan and declaring their readiness to fight at the conclusion of the drill.