"One cannot manage too many affairs; like pumpkins in water, one pops up while you try to hold down the other." Chinese Proverb
Ukraine’s allies have been conducting a massive re-armament of Ukraine’s military with ammunition, handguns, machine guns, anti-armor, anti-tank, and anti-air missiles. As the world’s supply of anti-amor, anti-tank, and anti-air weapons are depleted, one country stands to lose significantly if China decides to invade now: Taiwan.
Arming Ukraine versus Taiwan: Zero-Sum?
Countries in the West and in Asia that would support Taiwan against a Chinese invasion are pouring their excess guerrilla warfare and infantry type-weapons into Ukraine. Taiwan probably has enough handguns, machine guns and ammunition. Viewed from the Ukrainian side of the conflict, the anti-armor, anti-tank, and the anti-air missiles are damaging Putin’s invasion plans. Based on several reports, the following arms were sent to the Ukrainian military: at least 22,000 anti-tank missiles (including the US made Javelin and other European equivalents), at least 7,000 light anti-armor missiles, and about 2,000 shoulder-fired anti-air missiles (mostly Stinger and a other European systems). The Javelin anti-tank weapon has become so popular in Ukraine due to its effective and efficient way it destroys tanks, it has been dubbed Saint Javelin and many memes are found in social media showing support for the Ukrainians.
Even non-NATO countries like Finland (2,000) and Sweden (5,000), both close to Russia’s borders, have sent anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. The bravery of the political leaders, considering the Russian threat, especially those non-NATO countries, to support Ukraine should be duplicated with Taiwan.
The US and other countries armed the Mujahadin during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the effect on the Soviets was devastating—after almost 10 years of fighting, the Soviets withdrew. Following the Russian invasion in 2014, the Ukrainians conducted a training buildup with US and NATO assistance. In the spring of 2015, the US European Command’s along with NATO allies and partners established the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine (JMTGU). The JMTGU mentored and advised the Ukrainian Armed Forces on brigade-and-below combat training and increasing their training capacity. The JMTGU moved to Germany in February 2022.
Some sources report that the CIA supported the Ukrainian forces with paramilitary training. This training included: “sniper techniques; how to operate U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles and other equipment; how to evade digital tracking the Russians used to pinpoint the location of Ukrainian troops, which had left them vulnerable to attacks by artillery; how to use covert communications tools; and how to remain undetected in the war zone while also drawing out Russian and insurgent forces from their positions, among other skills.” As a result, the Ukrainians were somewhat better prepared for the 2022 invasion than the 2014 war. The CIA and the JMTGU critical training enabled the Ukrainian forces to use most of the weapons sent to them from their allies.
The large transfer of equipment means countries have depleted equipment stocks to the minimum amount (in many cases) and have kept just enough for their immediate self-defense needs. If another country, such as Taiwan, would need a massive influx of weapons, Taiwan’s allies will not have much to spare. This is the first concern and perhaps the CCP anticipated this zero-sum dilemma against Taiwan.
Needed: Countries to Arm Taiwan
The second concern is that assuming there are countries that would want to send weapons to help Taiwan against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), a major challenge will be to bypass a naval and air blockade that the PLA will most likely implement as part of the invasion. Once a total blockade is in effect, is it doubtful, that even the US would try to confront the PLA head on. Therefore, the arming of Taiwan should take place as soon as possible before the PLA can set up a blockade.
The amount and type of arms sent to Taiwan should be discussed with the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense so that they can prioritize the armaments they need and avoid receiving material that they don’t need. With Ukraine, the process is more chaotic since the Ukrainians are fighting for their survival. However, the types of weapons needed would both be similar and dissimilar. For example, anti-ship and anti-missile systems have not played a significant role in Ukraine, although they could have used some anti-missile systems to protect their cities, bases, and strategic targets (such as arms depots and nuclear power plants) from rocket and missile attacks. The Russian Black Sea fleet has not yet engaged.
Anti-ship and anti-missile systems would play a major initial and on-going role in preventing a naval invasion and thwarting the potentially thousands of missiles that could be used by the PLA against civilian, military, and strategic targets in Taiwan. Once forces landed or were landing, then anti-tank and anti-armor weapons could be employed just as the Ukrainians used these systems to devastating effect against the Russian forces.
Taiwan has several anti-ship missile types including the air and sea launched Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) and air launched AGM-84A Harpoon. Recently, on 2 March 2022, the US approved the sale of the Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems (HCDSs), a land-based system that ranges 75 miles, for the Taiwanese military. The contract was awarded when a high level US Department of Defense delegation visited Taiwan on 2 March and announced the deal with Boeing that will supply 100 land-based anti-ship missile systems to Taiwan that includes 400 RGM-84L-4 Harpoon II missiles, four RTM-84L-4 Harpoon II training missiles, 100 launch vehicles, and 25 radar trucks. The systems delivery will be completed by December 2028—useful if the PLA attacks after that date. Sea mines and other sea-denial systems would also be useful to protect Taiwan against a sea invasion.
Anti-Missile / Missile Defense Systems
Taiwan has anti-missile systems or missile defense systems such as Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) missile system and Sky Bow III (TK-3, formerly known as TK-2 anti-theater ballistic missile ATBM). In 2021, the State Department approved plans to provide Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptors to be delivered to Taiwan in 2025-2026. In February 2022, the State Department approved a $100 million Patriot refurbishment package to Taiwan.
Taiwan has man-portable anti-air systems (RBS 70, FIM-92A Stinger, and Mistral-1) that would be used throughout the operation which could be used against helicopters and fixed wing aviation. Given the number of PLAAF manned and unmanned aircraft in an invasion force, Taiwan might need a large supply of these man-portable systems to ensure that the PLAAF does not gain air superiority or air dominance. The higher-flying PLAAF aircraft such as bombers, reconnaissance, command and control, tankers, and others would have to be shot down by longer range surface-to-air missiles like Tien Kung II (Sky Bow II) range 150 KM and Tien-Kung III (Sky Bow III) range 200 KM. As long as the Taiwanese Air Force can maintain local air superiority, they appear to have a good range of air-to-air missiles (AIM-7M Sparrow, AIM-9M Sidewinder, AIM-9P-4 Sidewinder, AIM-120C AMRAAM, Tien Chien 1 (Sky Sword 1), Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword 2), Extended Range Sky Sword 2, MICA, R 550 Magic 2 and others); the sufficiency of quantities and mix of air-to-air missiles are contingent on the size of the PLAAF operation. Air-to-air and the longer-range surface-to-air missiles should have more availability from other countries since these were not sent to the Ukraine.
CCP Political Warfare
A third concern is the political warfare that the CCP will conduct against countries considering providing arms for Taiwan. The recent case of Lithuania naming the Taiwan representative office with the word “Taiwanese” brought about severe CCP sanctions. The CCP Customs “delisted” Lithuania, which means that they could not clear shipments destined for China, while Chinese exporters were prevented from shipping to Lithuania. The CCP also blocked imports from other European Union states that contained any sub-components originating in Lithuania and directed multinational companies to sever ties with Lithuania or face being denied access to the Chinese market. These three actions had never been imposed on any country by the CCP. Considering this reaction against Lithuania and previous sanctions against other countries (e.g., Japan, Norway, the Philippines, Taiwan, Mongolia, South Korea, USA, Canada, Australia, and the Czech Republic, France, and Slovenia), some countries may hesitate helping Taiwan—even before an invasion. Therefore, a new strategy should be implemented to ameliorate their fears.
Counter-CCP Political Warfare: Too Many Pumpkins Proverb
A successful strategy used for Ukraine was the near simultaneity of many countries providing support to Ukraine. In other words, the United States and Taiwan’s allies should provide a united front against the CCP so that the CCP cannot isolate a single country—as they have done in the past. Instead, the CCP would not be able to penalize all countries via various sanctions at the same time. This situation would be an example of the Chinese proverb: “One cannot manage too many affairs; like pumpkins in water, one pops up while you try to hold down the other.”
Furthermore, the allied countries should have a plan in place to mutually support each other should the CCP try to inflict harm on any one of them. In effect, this strategy would be similar to the NATO Article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all) but applied to counter political warfare—financial, economic, diplomatic, and other types of non-kinetic warfare.
Third Party Weapons Transfers
According to a White House press release from 16 March 2022, the US and other weapons producers permitted third-party transfers of defensive equipment from more than 14 countries. In other words, the US permitted transfer to Ukraine of American weapon systems that were in other countries’ inventories, such as Javelin and Stinger. Furthermore, the US and other weapons producing countries should make a commitment to replenish the weapons sent to Taiwan, as production permits, to the countries willing to provide them to Taiwan.
Coalition for Taiwan
Ukraine received aid from at least 30 countries, some outside of NATO. These same countries along with any other potential country interested in helping Taiwan, should form a coalition to supply arms to Taiwan now. Coalition members should be prepared to defend each other from CCP coercive actions. If only a handful of countries are willing to support Taiwan now, then they should still coordinate to protect each other to deliver arms to Taiwan. Assuming that the US would lead this group, the US would have to ensure that supplies get to Taiwan without interference from the PLA or any other part of the CCP.
Taiwan should already know what types and quantities of weapons they need. In old parlance, this analysis was called Wartime Active Replacement Factors (WARF) which is the rate of consumption of weapons and ammunition during wartime. The WARF analysis should be aligned with an assessment of Taiwan’s ability to maintain or increase production during wartime. These details should be worked out in advance and include calculations for possible attrition from PLA attacks on Taiwan storage bases, missed targets and other factors that occur during the fog of war; the adversary has an important vote on how many weapon systems and people survive an initial attack and attrite during wartime operations.
Arming Taiwan – Execution
The CCP could claim that the arming of Taiwan is a red line or a “casus belli.” The coalition for Taiwan should be prepared for strong political warfare as well as the real possibility that the CCP could initiate some sort of kinetic actions. Psychological warfare, Lawfare, media warfare and other comprehensive national and international power efforts should be prepared ahead of time to anticipate CCP efforts and to counter their arguments. For example, one argument would be that these weapons are defensive, are “insurance” against an invasion force, and not offensive weapons to be used to invade the PRC. The US and Taiwan’s allies should have their armed forces in place near Taiwan to deter the PLA from conducting offensive operations or to interdict arm shipments or air delivered armaments from reaching Taiwan. Additionally, the allied military forces should be prepared to stay in place until all required supplies are transferred and secured. The Taiwanese Armed Forces would also need time to train on any weapon system that they do not currently have in their inventory. All this effort takes time. The force should be prepared to maintain presence (rotate as needed) and keep the deterrence force in place until determined by Taiwan and its allies. Otherwise, Taiwan will be forced to defend itself without any assurance, that the US (and allies) will provide direct support during a PLA invasion or other belligerent acts.
“Each citizen must ready himself for protecting his state by preparing for war in peacetime and not wait until war breaks out.” – Plato
Guermantes Lailari is a Taiwan Fellow in Taipei and a member of the JPC board of fellows.