Forget its Huge Navy – Communist China’s Special Forces Are the Real Threat to Taiwan

Chinese soldiers march in Beijing/ Photo by August via (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/) Flickr

Even as the West watches the impressive transformation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) from a coastal defense force to a true ocean fleet with aircraft carriers, the PLAN may not be the lead force in any attempted invasion of Taiwan. One expert argues that despite the impressive growth of its amphibious capabilities, Communist China may not need its Navy at all.

Instead of an amphibious naval invasion it could rely primarily on missile and air attacks followed by massive airborne and helicopter assaults.

Lyle Goldstein, director of Asia Engagement at Defense Priorities and a former research professor at the US Naval War College explains that:

Indeed, China does not require large and advanced warships to attack the island. This is quite easily grasped if one simply looks at a map and sees that the medium-sized island is less than 100 miles off of China’s coast.

If the US were to try to invade Cuba, would it need the 3rd, 5th, and 7th fleets? Hardly. The US Army and Air Force most likely would be quite sufficient without support from the US Navy. The same is true for Taiwan, which is unfortunate enough to be a very close neighbor of a nationalistic, rising superpower.

In the first phase of an attack, Taiwan would be pulverized by thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles (not even counting lethal rocket artillery), eliminating its air defenses, hitting runways, and knocking out key communications nodes.

After that, hundreds of PLA Air Force bombers and attack aircraft would have free reign over the island, with critical assistance from surveillance drones and loitering “kamikaze” munitions.

The main purpose of these strikes, aside from eliminating Taiwan’s small navy and air force, would be to clear corridors over the island with massive firepower, paving the way for PLA soldiers to insert via parachute and helicopter.

Business Insider notes that a Russian expert on the PLA recently estimated the PLA helicopter force at 1,500 in a December 2021 analysis titled, “The Celestial Rotary-wing Empire.”

With its recent massive buildup of airborne and heliborne forces the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could reportedly put 50,000 communist soldiers on the democratic island in the first wave and well over 100,000 in the first 24 hours. While they are expected to suffer heavy casualties, Chinese doctrine allows for these losses as the price for victory.

But more dangerously, says Goldstein, expect the PLA to employ large numbers of special operations forces to “create mayhem in Taiwan’s rear areas, closing roads and attacking headquarters, but they would also secure crucial objectives, including crucial high ground, airfields, and small ports.”

He adds that the PLA fondness for special operations should not be a surprise since Chinese strategist Sun Tzu wrote 2,00 years ago: “use the normal force to engage; use the extraordinary force to win.”

Goldstein concludes that “American strategists would be wise to get real about this scenario with a better understanding of the local geography and developments in current Chinese military doctrine.”

Preparing for the wrong war in Taiwan could prove disastrous. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

People, Places & Things