Taiwan Weapons

The US military has ideas about how Taiwan can protect itself from a possible Chinese invasion (and therefore deter that invasion) I think they are very good ideas. I think that the proposed program would markedly reduce the threat of a PRC invasion of Taiwan, which is the most alarming threat currently faced by the US and its allies (including the allied country Taiwan, which the US does not recognize). I ask why is this program which is well suited to dealing with the biggest threat the US and allies faces not a good program for the US military too.

My thoughts are triggered by “U.S. Aims to Turn Taiwan Into Giant Weapons Depot” By Edward Wong and John Ismay. In particular”

U.S. officials increasingly emphasize Taiwan’s need for smaller, mobile weapons that can be lethal against Chinese warships and jets while being able to evade attacks, which is central to so-called asymmetric warfare.

“Shoot-and-scoot” types of armaments are popular with the Ukrainian military, which has used shoulder-fired Javelin and NLAW antitank guided missiles and Stinger antiaircraft missiles effectively against Russian forces. Recently, the Ukrainians have pummeled Russian troops with mobile American-made rocket launchers known as HIMARS.”

My question is why is this approach central only to “asymetric warfare”? If it is effective, then why isn’t it US military doctrine ?

The article argues that the risk faced by Taiwan can be significantly reduced by a “a $1.1 billion sale ” (which I have discussed before making the exact same argument I repeat here actually about that sale plus some other sales as the price tag was $2.37 billion). If it is so cheap to address the most threatening threat in the world, why is “The Department of Defense’s discretionary budget authority for fiscal year 2022 … $722 billion “ ?

Wong and Ismay explain how it would be unwise for Taiwan to spend its limited budget on a small numbe of extremely expensive weapons systems. “They said Taiwan needs to shift resources away from “expensive, high-profile conventional systems” that China can easily destroy in an initial attack,” It goes without saying that the USA will not shift resources away from “expensive, high-profile conventional systems.” I note the article contains no hint of a suggestion of a possible argument against such a shift.

I also note that the current approach to Taiwan is also relevant for other US allies and that it is possible that in other cases as well selling weapons to a friend is an important supplement to deploying US forces to protect them. Matthew Yglesias suggests that the US should shift back to being the arsenal of Democracy. He notes that this costs us less (zero) and is consistent with the US insistence that we do not aim for empire. (by the way, his post is much better than this post and, as usual, you should just click the link and stop reading my maybe OK but not best on the web effort).

OK back to the question: why don’t we do that which we insist that Taiwan do ?

There are possible answers.

One is that it would be a bad mistake. It is true with the new arms a Chinese invasion is still possible if and only if Xi JinPing goes nuts and also war is very bad for a country armed only with shoot and scoot weapons. War is also bad for countries with “expensive high-profile conventional systems” (EHPCWS) and crazy people can’t be deterred by EHPWS. I don’t see any merit in the argument that my proposed radical change to US military doctrine would be a mistake. I note that I have been arguing for smart munitions fired from cheap platforms for 42 years now. I think I have a record

Another is that the US aims for empire. If indeed we want to control the world and not just deter attach or stop an attack if deterrence fails, then our current policy makes sense. Spending huge amounts of money to obtain the ability to project power around the world rather than spending zero to sell weapons to democratic allies so they can defend themselves makes sense if the “Defense” in “Department of Defense” is a lie and we are really interested in offense not defense. I do not believe this one either (but ask how you would react if another country was so determined to be able to project force anywhere in the world). I am sure there are crypto-imperialists in the USA (who were not so crypto in 2001) but I don’t think they are numerous or powerful.

A third is that the DOD is basically a giant pork barrel. One person’s cost is another person’s revenue. I am absolutely sure that this is part of the explanation, but I am also sure it is only part.

I think another key issue is that a massive change in doctrine is disrupted and the decision about whether to disrupt is made by those who would be out of a job. I consider one example (the topic on which I bored a guy half to death in 1980). Why does the US spend so much on strategic bombers when cruise missiles can do the job at much lower cost ? The US budget contains funds for something called a B-21. I think this is obviously a mistake.

Why does the US spend so much money on manned aircraft when drones (kamikaze and other) can do the job ? What is the advantage of the F35 over older planes such as the not yet shot down F15 and the terrifying A10 ?

Developing a new super advanced high tech replacement for existing weapons without changing basic doctrine and force structure is what the DOD does. No smarter start up can challenge them. It is absolutely not surprising, but it is also very very expensive.

I think we should follow the advice we gave Taiwan.