By: Project 2049 Institute |
ChinaÂ deploysÂ over a thousand short range ballistic missiles as well as almost 500 fighter and bomber aircraft opposite Taiwan. In the event of a conflict, China could seek air superiority over the Strait by mobilizing a full-scale missile bombardment against Taiwanâ€™s airfields and fighter aircraft fleet. A 2009Â RAND reportÂ predicted that if the first wave of missiles specifically targeted airbases, China would have a 90% chance of doing sufficient damage Taiwanâ€™s runways to trap its fighters on the ground for hours. While the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) faces significant challenges in cross-Strait conflict scenarios,Â airbase survivalÂ appears to be a rising priority of Taiwanâ€™s defense establishment.
Leveraging the islandâ€™s unique geography, the ROCAF has constructed a massive underground bunker at Chia-shan on Taiwanâ€™s east coast to house up to 200 of its fighters. Taiwan has also constructed aÂ second mountain bunkerÂ at Chih-hang Airbase, near Tai-tung, to protect an additional 60 fighters.
The ROCAF has also taken significant steps towards ensuring operability despite possible runway damage. ROCAF fighters are prepared for operating from sections of theÂ national freeway systemÂ in a contingency. Taiwan has also invested in specialized equipment to reduce the impact of runway damage. In 2002, the ROCAF procured more than 300Â rapid runway repair kitsÂ and holds regular runway repair exercises.
Engineering studies, however, have suggested that Taiwan requires better runway repair equipment to address its unique threat environment. Similarly, a 2006Â surveyÂ assessed that existing systems have not met Taiwanâ€™s technical requirements.
Indications exist that an indigenous effort may be underway to improve upon existing solutions. For example, Taiwan is researching advanced cementing technologies to quickly repair damaged runways, andÂ outlining innovative methodsÂ to clear debris and unexploded ordnance. Taiwan has also conductedÂ technical analysisÂ of runway repair optimization and surveyed international approaches to the runway repair problem. Furthermore, development ofÂ electronic attack systemsÂ to counter ballistic and cruise missile terminal guidance systems is also under consideration.
U.S. assessments of Taiwanâ€™s airbase survivability assume China will mount a full scale assault as a prelude to an amphibious invasion. Other analysts believe limited coercive use of force is aÂ most likely scenario. Nevertheless, a conflict is less likely to be a long distance race between Chinaâ€™s missile forces and Taiwanâ€™s runway repair capability, but a sprint aimed at achieving political goals rather than a complete military defeat of Taiwan. Responding to Chinaâ€™s strategic philosophy of â€œrapid war, rapid resolution,â€ Taiwanâ€™s strategy focuses on â€œwinning the first battleâ€ rather than a war of attrition. While the challenge to Taiwan posed by Chinese missile forces is substantial, the ROCAFâ€™s ability to sustain operations in a limited coercive conflict may be greater than expected.