A recent RAND study suggests that American airpower will be unable to counter a full-scale Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 2020. The report, entitled “Air Combat Past, Present and Future,” notes there’s a matter of geography. We have one air base within 500 nautical miles of the Taiwan Strait, and China has 27. Beijing’s air assets are based right across that body of water while American planes will have to come from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan’s Okinawa or Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Aircraft carriers closer to the area of combat will be at risk due to China’s large submarine force and its other anti-ship countermeasures.The report is full of grim details. Chinese bases are hardened, more so than ours: Beijing’s forces could “damage, destroy or strand 75 percent of aircraft based at Kadena.” China’s radars can see stealthy American planes. China can probably defeat American beyond-visual-range weapons.
More important, Beijing’s military modernization, when combined with superior numbers, makes for an overwhelming Chinese advantage. If we have to fly from Kadena, China will enjoy a 3:1 advantage in fighters. The edge is 10:1 if we have to operate from Andersen. The United States still has a technical lead over China, but the People’s Liberation Army is catching up fast. While the United States will have to cut back defense outlays, China is accelerating. This year’s announced military budget reflects the 18th double-digit increase in the last 19 years.
The report says the U.S. needs a plan to counter the Chinese. So how will we defend Asia’s most endangered democracy? The first thing to do is ditch the policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which has only emboldened Beijing by encouraging it to doubt American resolve. We need to declare, in unmistakable terms, that an attack on Taiwan will be considered an attack on the United States and that we will use all the weapons we have. This approach kept Europe safe during the Cold War and is protecting Japan today.
Of course, the Bush administration, which has mostly taken China’s side on Taiwan issues, will not make such a pronouncement, and neither McCain nor Obama have said they would do so. But it’s high time we begin recognizing who are our friends and who are our enemies. Our friends are the democracies of Asia, and we should consider their enemies as our enemies.
“China is the only large power in the world preparing to shoot Americans,” says American analyst Robert Sutter. This century and last, Americans die when we fail to understand the world clearly.