Category Amphibious Warfare

Last opposed amphibious operation

I have written a paragraph in a book I am working on that states:

It is probably also worth bearing in mind that the last opposed U.S. amphibious operation conducted by the U.S. Marine Corps was the landing at Tang Island in 1975, and since then, no nation has conducted a major amphibious operation against a defended beachhead. There have been no major opposed amphibious operations in the last 48 years.

Now, is there anything I am missing? Has anyone in the world conducted a significant opposed amphibious operation since 1975?

Transnistria and the invasion of Odessa

This is a discussion cut from my daily posting on the Russo-Ukrainian War. 

Do not think Odessa is in danger anymore from amphibious invasion. The range of a Ukrainian manufactured Neptune missile is 175 miles (280 kilometers). The distance from Odessa to Sevastopol is 188 miles (which is reported to have militarized dolphin pens). The distance from Odessa to Chisinau, the capital of land-locked Moldova (pop. 2.6 million), is about 100 miles. Finally saw an article today that backs my view of the situation: Russia struggles to turn Black Sea rule into amphibious attack. There does some to be some action on and around the now famous Snake Island, which is just off the coast of border between Romania and Ukraine. 

I do hear some talk about the Russian separatist Transnistria (pop. maybe 347,251), officially called PMR (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic), becoming somehow involved in this war, but I don’t see it. They are pretty small and pretty isolated. Russia does have a force of 1,500 troops there based at a decommissioned Soviet-era ammunition depot at Cobasna where it guards 22,000 tons of military equipment and ammunition. This force consists of two motor rifle battalions, and independent security and support battalion, a helicopter detachment and other smaller administrative detachments. These troops also patrol and man the borders of Transnistria. Suspect the threats to activate them is more for the sake of drawing Ukrainian attention away from the main battle front. Actually activating them would drag Transnistria into the war, which being isolated and almost 200 miles from the nearest Russian units would probably end poorly for them. The “Dnestr Republic” was reported to have 4,500 to 5,500 troops and the Moldavan armed forces consisted of 6,500 troops as of 2007, with their ground forces being 5,710.

A Russian news agency (RIA) quoting the Russian defense ministry today said that 1 person was killed and 27 were missing from the sunk cruiser Moskva and the remaining 396 crew were evacuated. 396 + 1 + 27 = 424, which is less than the ship’s reported strength of 485 or 510. There are reports out there that the count of missing exceeds 27.

Pratas Island

Noted an article yesterday:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/china-debated-attacking-taiwan-controlled-123900171.html

Basically, Taiwan is saying that China is considering invading Pratas island in 2024 or after (but not before 2024).

Now, Pratas Island is located 200 miles (310 kilometers) southeast of Hong Kong. It is 276 miles (444 kilometers) from Taiwan.

It is a circular atoll with a single island that is crescent-shaped (see picture).  It is that little piece of land in the western part of the atoll with a lagoon.

Map of Pratas Island (1969)

The island is about 430 acres (174 hectares) and measure 1.7 miles long (2.8 kilometers) and is only about a half-mile wide (0.537 miles or 0.865 kilometers). Not exactly a prize the size of Taiwan. There are “numerous” oil wells to the west of island. Not sure how much, if any, oil is being pumped there. 

The height of the island at the base of the “The Pratas Triangulation Point” is 2.4875 meters (8.16 feet). Sea levels are currently projected to rise 2-3 feet by the end of this century, so I gather this island is going to get smaller over time.

According to Wikipedia there are about 500 Taiwanese marines stationed there. The island has no permanent inhabitants. (see: Pratas Island – Wikipedia).

Pratas Island Lagoon

Now, I am not sure I am going to loose a lot of sleep over this one.

  1. It is a fairly insignificant piece of terrain.
  2. No one lives there.
  3. Is China really going to take the political and economic hit to take this?

If China grabbed the island, they were certainly take a political hit. They are not exactly the most popular country in the world right now, and this would have a negative impact to their world image and standing. I assume the local defense force would defend it, making it a bloody conquest. What would be the cost of this?

Militarily, it would serve to justify increases in the U.S., Taiwanese, South Korean and Japanese defense budgets.

Economically, it might have little impact, but two of China’s major trading partners are the United States and Taiwan. There might be limited or extensive economic sanctions.

Is this a hit that China is willing to take? 

Things related to our discussion on invading Taiwan

Over the last month, we did something like eleven posts analyzing the possibilities and the ability of China to invade and occupy Taiwan. The summery post is here:
Will China invade Taiwan in the next 20 years? Summation: | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Just spotted a CNN article that is related: US Air Force to send dozens of F-22 fighter jets to the Pacific amid tensions with China

A few highlights:

  1. We are sending 25 F-22s to Guam and Tinian Islands (Northern Marianas).
  2. F-22’s are fifth-generation combat jets. China has 20-24. We have 180 F-22s (and then there are F-35s).
  3. Only about half of the F-22s “…are mission capable at any one time due to maintenance requirements.”
  4. 10 F-15s and 2 C-130Js are also deploying.

I copied the cover picture from the article. 

Will China invade Taiwan in the next 20 years? Summation:

This post is a summation of my previous ten posts on the subject. We first looked in two posts whether there was a reasonable threat of Taiwan being invaded in the next six years. Our conclusion was that the idea was “somewhat loopy.” I was surprised that I received no push-back from any readers on this. The two posts are:

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – wherefore and why? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – the fight? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

My nagging suspicion was that the claims made by retiring Admiral Phillip Davidson of the Indo-Pacific Command was a whole lot more related to preserving or generating budget than it was a realistic assessment.

I then looked at what is the costs and risks for China if they choose to invade Taiwan. They are significant and it is not just economic. I also looked at the leadership of China, which is more than one man. This is in this post: Will China take the risk and actually invade Taiwan? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

I then took a more long-term look (20 years) at the subject with an introductory post and six follow-up post discussing each of the six variables in depth. They are:

Will China invade Taiwan in the next 20 years? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Variable 1: Who is the leader of China? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Variable 2: What is the changing composition of the politburo? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Variable 3: How is the economy of China doing? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Variable 4: Is there a problem with internal turmoil and unrest in China? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Variable 5: What is the degree of U.S. commitment to Taiwan? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Variable 6: What is the size and capabilities of the Chinese Armed Forces? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

To try to summarize, the leadership of China is in their sixties. They tend to be careful, deliberate and somewhat risk adverse. They are not very likely do a high-risk operation that could undermine the Chinese economy and potentially Communist Chinese rule. Therefore, the Taiwan is really not at risk of invasion unless there is a leadership change and this is probably not going to happen in the next 10-15 years. That new leadership may also be risk adverse. So, kind of looking at less than a 25% chance of getting risk taking leadership who would be tempted to do this, and that window for that happening is probably 15-20 years out.

But, in addition to getting the leaders who would take the risk, the Chinese also needs to build up a navy and air force to do so. They really don’t have the air force. For example, they only have 400 modern aircraft. Taiwan alone has 159. Add a few hundred aircraft from the U.S. inventory of 2,700 and any invasion is in trouble. Good luck conducting and sustaining a large amphibious operation when the defenders have air superiority. I don’t recall this ever being attempted before. Basically, for China to do anything militarily, it has to build another 1,000 or more modern aircraft. This is expensive. Certainly can’t be done with present defense budget. So, what we will see, and it we will have years of warning, is a significant increase in Chinese defense budget (above 2% of GDP), building of hundred of aircraft, building more naval assets and so forth. So we will know if they are really serious by the budget expenditures. Right now, their defense budget does not really give them the ability to invade Taiwan.

Now, of course, such a scenario does require U.S. assistance to defend Taiwan. This is discussed in “variable 4.” The real key is that to defend Taiwan can be done primarily with air assets. This is a much less lower threshold for engagement then sending troops, and we have not been that adverse to sending troops around the world (Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria for example). Do we have enough commitment to send just air forces? 

The real key is whether U.S. commitment declines over time and whether China does indeed build up. This does create a window say 15-20 years out where China may have the capability in place and U.S. commitment is wavering and the Chinese leadership is willing to take a risk. The problem is that China has a demographic problem. According to some reports, their population is already declining. This is going to create a drag on their economy. 

We have been talking about this for a while: Demographics of China | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Witness Japan: Where Did Japan Go? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

So, the drag on the Chinese economy from their demographics, along with possibly other economic or political problems may well become a major factor in the next ten years. How does this play out if their window of opportunity for doing this military and politically is 15-20 years out? Does this mean that they really will never be in position to invade Taiwan? This does look to be the case. 

Now, this does not rule out a mis-calculation or a major mistake by the Chinese leadership. History is full of such idiocy, like Japan attacking a country in 1941 that had over ten times the GDP that they did. So we cannot rule out, no matter how the situation looks on paper, that someone will ignore the statistics and do it anyway. There are plenty of examples of this in history.

Now, I do believe that it is essential that the U.S. maintains its commitment to Taiwan to maintain the deterrence. This certainly includes maintaining fleet presence in the area, arm sales to Taiwan, and conducting exercises with South Korea and Japan the emphasizes reinforcing the area. This are all good and what we have been doing. Of course, plopping a brigade in Taiwan would be the ultimate commitment, but I don’t think that is on anyone’s agenda.

Still, my conclusion is that this is:

  1. Not going to happen in the next 6 years.
  2. Probably not going to happen in the next 15 years.
  3. May be a threat in the next 15-20 years, but only if
    1. The new Chinese leadership is willing to take a risk.
    2. The Chinese economy is growing.
    3. The Chinese governance is stable.
    4. The Chinese military has been built up significantly.
    5. The U.S. commitment has weakened.
  4. Could always happen if the Chinese make a major mis-calculation.

My overall conclusion is that this is not very likely to happen. Still, one must be prepared for it, and by being prepared for it, it decreases the likelihood of it ever happening.

 

 

—–some additional ruminations from the first draft of this blog post that was done about a month ago——-

It is clear that the danger to Taiwan will become obvious over time. The army may be capable of conducting an amphibious invasion now, but the navy and air force is not large enough. With a concerted effort, certainly the Air Force could be built up and modernized over a decade or so, but it going to take longer to build a fleet that at least temporarily contest the seas with the U.S. These are build-ups that will develop over time and will be noticed. So we will know when were are truly moving into a period of real exposure. Whether the political leadership will react in the proper and timely manner is another subject.

But, there is also the possibility of a changing regime in the People’s Republic (more democratic or in political turmoil) could obviate the threat to Taiwan or much less likely, a changing regime in the Democratic Republic (Taiwan) could take away the need to defend it (they might want to join China?). So the problem could magically go away, but we have no indication of that now.

The end result is I do not think there is a real threat of it happening any time in the next decade. I think in the second half of the second decade (more than 15 years from now) China could have all the pieces in place to make it happen, but we will see them develop it over time. Right now, with defense spending at 1.7% or less of their GDP, they may not get there in two decades. But regardless, it will be clear if it is happening.

So, I sort of discount the possibility that China will invade Taiwan in the next 20 years. It could happen. To do so would require 1) new leadership that is willing to take the risk, 2) significant build up of the air force, 3) build up of naval and sea-lane control assets, 4) the correct internal regime conditions (desire and sufficient economic/political stability), and 5) a favorable international situation (U.S. lack of commitment). Will all these conditions track in a manor favorable to invading Taiwan in the next 20 years? I would not stake money on it.

Variable 6: What is the size and capabilities of the Chinese Armed Forces?

I think I covered most of this in my previous posts, for example: Invading Taiwan in the next six years – the fight? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org). But, let me walk and talk through the subject one last time.

An amphibious invasion of Taiwan is going to require China to not only put an army across that can defeat the 130,000-man Taiwanese Army, but to also supply that invading army for the duration of the operation (which could takes weeks or months). This means maintaining control of the sea and the air. So while China probably has the army right now that is capable of doing this, if the United States supports Taiwan, it does not have the navy or the air force to do this (especially over time).

So, for the Chinese armed forces to invade Taiwan, they will need not only an army (which the have), but a navy (which they currently do not have) and an air force (which they really don’t have) that can control the sea and the air around Taiwan.

So, for the Chinese to invade Taiwan, they need to either 1) build up their navy, 2) built up and modernize their air force, and/or 3) make sure the United States does not intervene. As this last point is covered in the last post, let us just look like at what they need to do to address the first two points.

The Chinese navy currently consists of 2 small carriers and 36 destroyers. The U.S. navy consists of around 11 large carriers, 9 amphibious carriers, 22 cruisers and 59 destroyers. This is a gross mismatch. See: .

See: The Size of Fleets in the South China Sea, Part 1 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

And: Size of Fleets around the South China Sea, Part 2 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The U.S. Navy is here: U.S. Navy Compared to Russian Navy | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Therefore, over the next 20 years, any significant build-up of naval capabilities will be a strong indicator of intention. The build-up has to be more than another small carrier or two and more than a few more destroyers. They have to build up a capability to at least seal the Straits of Formosa from U.S. naval intervention for at least a month. Now that can be done with air, missiles, smaller surface ships, submarines, etc., but without a deep water navy, they will have lots of other problems (economic interdiction, interdiction of oil supplies, loss of the Spratly Islands, etc.). It is not a pretty picture for them no matter how they look at it, and building up a navy that can take on our deep water fleet is a very tough task to do in next 20 years. Kind of reminds me of Kaiser Willy’s attempt before the Great War to build a battlefleet to challenge the British. That did not work out well either.

And then there is the air. Now according to an article Clinton Reilly just posted in the comments (and I saw not reason to cross-check their data) the U.S. Air Force has nearly 2,300 warplanes in service and 1,422 aircraft for the U.S. Navy and Marines. So, 3,700 + Taiwan’s air force (300+) + anyone else that wants to help (S. Korea, Japan and Australia come to mind). China has 1,264 airplanes. Furthermore, among the most advanced planes are 19 J-20s, 50 J-16s, and 235 J-11s (a variant of the Su-27), 24 Su-34s, 76 Su-30s or 404 airplanes that hold my attention. In contrast the United States Air Force has 432 F-15s, 939 F-16s, 186 F-22s, and 283 F-35s or 1,840. The U.S. Navy has 532 F-18s and 18 F-35s while the USMC has 273 F-18s and 57 F-35s. Taiwan has 113 F-16s and 46 Mirage 2000. So a total of 2,720 vice 404. 

So while one can talk about differing world-wide missions and obligations for the U.S. air forces; for a short period of time, it ain’t that hard to quickly shift a lot of the planes to the defense of Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China (Red China) kind of needs to be able to take on over 2,000 hostile modern fighter aircraft. Hard to do with only 400 of their own.

So, for China to be able to establish permanent control of the airspace around Taiwan, do they need at least another 1,000 planes? May be…probably. Not sure how they do so otherwise. So, then means a pretty serious building program over the next 20 years. We will see this coming. 

So, to have a serious threat to invade and maintain that invasion force they are really going to have go through a serious build-up of both naval and air assets. Far more than what they are doing right now. Furthermore, we will see it coming for years. Added to that, we can also respond in kind. So…..

Will China invade Taiwan in the next 20 years?

I did three posts recently looking at the claim by retiring Admiral Phillip Davidson of the Indo-Pacific Command indicating that he thought China might invade Taiwan in the next six years: “I think the threat is manifest…in the next six years…” I ended up concluding (in bold) that “I do find the idea that mainland China will invade Taiwan in the next 6 years to be somewhat loopy.” I was surprised that I did not receive any comments about that characterization.

Now, it is possible that China may invade Taiwan, not in the near future, but over the next decade or two. Let us say in the next 20 years. So what would have to change to make this option viable in the next 20 years when it is really not likely in the next 6 years?

I think the following will influence this:

  1. Who is the leader of China?
  2. What is the changing composition of the politburo?
  3. How is the economy of China doing?
  4. Is there a problem with internal turmoil and unrest in China?
  5. What is the degree of U.S. commitment to Taiwan?
  6. What is the size and capabilities of the Chinese Armed Forces?

 

I will have to address each of these variables one blog post at a time. As I don’t like to do particularly long blog posts (unlike my books), I will address each of these variables in a separate blog post, maybe every other day, if I am so focused.

In this case, I am looking at a conventional amphibious operation, as I think that is the only approach over the next 20 years that will actually bring Taiwan under control of China. There are other options and operations that China can do that may intimidate or coerce Taiwan and modify their behavior, but these do not bring Taiwan under the direct control of China. To control Taiwan without an amphibious invasion is a much longer, complex and more difficult process, and I am not going to discuss that here.

Keep in mind that right now, in a conventional warfare scenario, if Taiwan has military support from the United States, the most likely outcome would be a failed invasion. The political and economic cost of a failed invasion would be very significant, possibly resulting in the collapse of the ruling party of the People’s Republic of China.

 

Past three blog posts on the subject:

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – wherefore and why? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Invading Taiwan in the next six years – the fight? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Will China take the risk and actually invade Taiwan? | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

 

P.S. Today is the 77th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Related blog post: The Dupuy Institute on Youtube | Mystics & Statistics