KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — Another week, another series of incursions by the Chinese navy and air force into Taiwanese territory.
This week has seen eight Chinese military aircraft entering Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), bringing the number of such incidents so far this month to 15. As always, Taiwanese aircraft had to be deployed to escort them out.
On the sea, we saw a Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shandong, traverse the Taiwan Strait, which forced the Taiwanese Navy and Air Force to send six warships and eight military aircraft to “stand guard” and monitor its movements.
The dramatic increase in the number of Chinese military incursions is no coincidence. It is part of a concerted strategy which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using to test Taiwan.
The CCP's use of “grey-zone” tactics was profiled earlier this month in an investigative report by Reuters. The term refers to the strategy of testing the edges of Taiwan’s ADIZ and territorial waters to force the Taiwanese military to react.
When a Chinese military aircraft enters the ADIZ, Taiwan has to scramble fighter jets to intercept them and monitor its activity. Air-defense missile units are also frequently put on standby.
Minister of National Defense Yen Teh-fa (嚴德發) said in October that the Air Force had scrambled fighters against Chinese aircraft 2,972 times in the first nine months of the year. The cost of this was a cool NT$25.5 billion (US$903 million).
Reuters estimated that this was an increase of 129 percent compared to the whole of 2019. And it is a similar story at sea too.
Taiwanese naval vessels have conducted over 1,220 missions to intercept People's Liberation Army Navy ships so far this year, according to data published in early November. This is about 400 more than were conducted last year.
The relentless nature of these grey-zone tactics wears down the limited capabilities of Taiwan’s military as well as uses up valuable resources. Over time, the cost of fuel, pilot and sailor fatigue, and the wear and tear on aircraft and ships will threaten readiness.
U.S. military officials have advised Taiwan not to respond every time its ADIZ or territorial waters are breached. After all, much of this activity is taking place far from the main island and poses no significant threat to national security.
Taiwan respectfully disagrees. The authorities believe China's aim is to gather data about Taiwan’s military and security capabilities and would no doubt ask how the American military would react if the CCP did the same thing to the U.S.
But the fact remains that grey-zone tactics are likely to be here to stay, and while that is the case, Taiwan’s military is under severe strain. So, what is the solution?
One option is to expand the country’s military capacity to cope with these new demands. Domestically manufacturing submarines is an excellent step in that direction, and this project should be accelerated and other indigenous manufacturing options considered.
The Reuters report talks about the problems with Taiwan’s reserves and the lack of adequately trained fighters available should the need arise. This is something that needs addressing, and perhaps the Taiwanese government ought to reconsider the length of the conscription terms and the level of training conscripts receive.
Taiwan’s sovereignty and national pride require it to react when its territory is breached, but is there a way this can be done with fewer planes and ships and less drain on military resources?
Perhaps the most vital thing Taiwan can do to protect itself from Communist China is to ensure its military is strategically smart and ready to counter anything the Chinese military might throw at it.
If China does invade Taiwan, it is likely to attempt to overwhelm Taiwan with sheer numbers.
The key to defending Taiwan is not to try and compete with the Chinese Communist Party but to outfox it. And that can be done with good training, good intelligence, smart equipment purchases, and a focus on strategy over power and bravado.
If Taiwan’s military can put itself in this position, grey-zone tactics will be like water off a duck’s back.