The following is the second installment of a translated Guancha.cn article. Click here to read Part 1.
On a technical level, China’s Taiwan Strait exercise has showcased a variety of advanced weaponry and tactics and demonstrated the strength of China’s military industry.
Here’s a rundown:
Long-range rocket launchers
In the latest exercise, long-range rocket launchers were used. They were not the well-known 300mm rocket launchers but the more advanced 370mm ones.
Compared with the 300mm rocket launcher, the 370mm one has larger caliber, longer range and higher firing speed and accuracy. Also, they are modularized and can reload quickly and fire different types of rockets.
In the exercise, the new long-range rocket launcher showed its high mobility and great practical significance. When it was first displayed at the National Day parade in 2019, Chinese military watchers were surprised. They did not expect a newer generation of 370mm rocket launchers to be launched so soon after the 300mm ones.
It was said at the time that all equipment displayed in the National Day parade had already been in service. But no one knew whether it was still in the pilot stage or not.
The more advanced the equipment, the longer the time it takes to meet combat standards.
The well-known French “Caesar” 155mm self-propelled howitzer went into production in 2008. Its second generation was unveiled in 2022, still 6×6 chassis, with improved fire control and increased armor. It will take four years to develop before mass production. It will take even longer to be installed and form a combat force.
China’s long-range rocket launcher, which is more powerful and sophisticated, has successfully entered its combat mode within three years. It demonstrated the speed and efficiency of the Chinese military industry, as well as the PLA.
A lot of other advanced equipment was used, including Xi’an Y-20, 052D destroyers and J-20 fighter jets.
“Older equipment” such as the Dongfeng-15B, a veteran of the 1996 exercise, is still playing an important role.
According to US and Japanese media reports on August 5, 11 Dongfeng-15B missiles were launched during the exercise, with landing points encircling the northern and southern ends of Taiwan Island and the western Pacific Ocean. They were launched from Zhejiang, Fujian and Jiangxi with some of them passing over the suburbs of southern Taipei.
Interestingly, Taiwanese authorities did not issue any air defense alert and commented on it when it only when approached by the media afterwards.
Taiwan said no air defense alert was needed as the missiles were outside the atmosphere and posed no safety hazard when passing across the island.
Some Taiwan media and politicians said the arrangement was unfair to the Taiwanese people, who have the right to know.
There may be some untold truths regarding Taiwan’s failure to issue an alert. There are four scenarios:
- The Taiwan army failed to detect the missiles because of its insufficient detection capabilities or Dongfeng-15B’s stealth capabilities.
- It judged that the missiles would not hit the island so it turned off the radar to avoid its radar performance being seen by the PLA.
- It judged that the missiles would not threaten the island and that it could not intercept them.
- It judged that the missiles would not threaten the island and it did not want to
escalate the situation by intercepting them.
The Dongfeng-15B is an improved version of the Dongfeng-15 series. China has done deep research on stealth technology. It’s not surprising that the Dongfeng-15B has an anti-radar system.
In general, ballistic missile launch and early warning is a mature technology so the chance that Taiwan forces failed to detect the Dongfeng-15B is low.
It is a reasonable assumption that the Taiwanese army detected the missiles but let them fly over Taiwan as they did not pose any threat.
But this would be a really big gamble, because the PLA’s exercise was almost like actual combat. The seamless transition from an exercise to actual combat is a matter of minutes. If it happens, the Taiwanese army will be caught off guard. Of course, nonresponse would be reasonable if Taiwan wanted to hide its radar performance and reaction plans from the PLA.
The Patriot missile is the only means for Taiwan’s military to counteract but its range and height are limited. All its launch facilities are known by the PLA. The PLA’s missiles can easily evade Patriots.
In this case, Taiwan may simply pretend to have seen nothing.
It is also possible that Taiwan detected PLA’s missiles and had the ability to intercept them but decided to do nothing for fear of escalating conflict. But the chance is small.
If Taiwan did not intercept the PLA’s missiles flying across the island, what about high-speed drones and fighter jets? How can the Taiwanese authorities give the people any sense of security?
In any case, the Taiwan authorities have to give an explanation.
Chinese aircraft carriers
During the exercise, the Liaoning and Shandong carriers are said to have left their home ports and gone “somewhere.” Of course, they were not on a summer vacation at public expense.
The military role of China’s aircraft carriers is a matter of endless debate. There are constant claims that Chinese carriers are to be used to liberate Taiwan. But the fact that Chinese aircraft carriers went “somewhere” when the J-20 fighter jets, Xian H-6 bombers and Type 052D destroyers were deployed shows that narrowly defined operations in the Taiwan Strait are not suitable for Chinese aircraft carriers. It would be a huge waste to send them there.
Some people said Chinese carriers could only be used to restrain small-and-medium-sized trouble-making countries but not the US carriers. This is even more incorrect.
It is misplacement to turn a carrier into a mega maritime police ship. The country’s important weapon is to serve the country’s important task.
The US aircraft carriers are a great obstacle to China’s reunification by force. If the Chinese aircraft carriers cannot play the role of a mainstay in the reunification, how can they match Chinese people’s high expectations?
Besides, China will not do what other people expect.
Chinese aircraft carriers may not necessarily fight against US counterparts in contests like the Battle of the Coral Sea or Battle of Midway in 1942. As long as they can defeat their opponents with the support of 055 destroyers, submarines, shore-based aircraft and anti-ship ballistic missiles, it is a victory.
During the exercise, the USS Ronald Reagan moved closer to Japan and later showed signs of returning, but its actions remained hesitant.
It’s easy for the nuclear-powered carrier to move 1,000 kilometers in one day. The USS Ronald Reagan’s battle group had time to approach the Taiwan Strait throughout the exercise but it did not. There are certainly political considerations.
It is hard to conclude that the movements of the Liaoning battle group from Qingdao and the Shandong battle group from Sanya, Hainan had no impact on the US aircraft carrier, which had suddenly turned away from the Taiwan Strait and moved eastward on August 3.
The Global Times reported on August 4 that nuclear submarines had been deployed in the exercise. If there are still shortcomings in China’s military power, the shortcomings of both aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines are being gradually made up.
The report did not say whether a strategic missile nuclear submarine or an attack nuclear submarine was deployed, or both. In fact, strategic missile nuclear submarines are always on combat duty.
Attack nuclear submarines have three functions: anti-carrier, anti-submarine and land attack.
All these were used in the exercise. It is needless to say that anti-carrier warfare was the main task of China’s nuclear submarines while other missions included anti-warship and anti-merchant ships.
In the exercise, people paid great attention to the USS Ronald Reagan, as well as the USS Tripoli and the USS America. It is almost certain that US submarines were quietly moving in the Western Pacific Ocean.
During the 1996 exercise, Chinese nuclear submarines were also deployed, but the Americans scoffed that the noise was so loud that it could be heard across the Pacific.
This was certainly an exaggeration. At that time, China had just resolved an embarrassing problem: it had possessed no nuclear submarines in the past.
Over the years, China has grown its nuclear submarine technology quietly and rapidly. When China shows its achievement, people are very surprised. Now it’s the time for people to feel astonished.
China would not be unprepared to let slip that nuclear submarines were deployed. Probably, Chinese and American nuclear submarines are competing in the Western Pacific Ocean as well.
In terms of ground attack, there is no need to use nuclear submarines. But for the US bases in Japan, the situation is not the same.
Attack is always the best defense. And in the Western Pacific, that may consist of a a mass attack similar to that of the Chinese Communist Party against the Kuomintang in the Dabie Mountains in 1947.
In terms of electromagnetic and space warfare, various plans are also essential.
The PLA’s air force, supported by an airborne radar system, will be deployed while all kinds of air radars and data chains will be in full swing. It is necessary to keep our ears clear and eyes open but stay silent and confuse the enemy with false information.
In wartime, having an attack without disguise is dangerous as it will result in the enemy’s electromagnetic and spatial countermeasures.
At the same time, the PLA needs to show its real power to deter the enemy. It should let the enemy know that some more powerful attacks will come soon.
Taiwan’s planes and surface vessels
Taiwan’s military in general has stayed low-profile during the PLA’s exercise. Initially, it only deployed Mirage 2000 and Northrop F-5E/F.
The Mirage 2000 was once the mainstay of the Taiwan Air Force, but has been withdrawn from frontline use after Taiwan’s F-16 fighter jets were upgraded.
The F-5E/F is even older and is normally used only for training pilots.
Their deployment can save the more valuable F-16 flight hours and avoid exposing the F-16’s radar and data information.
In later stages, the F-16 (including the pre-upgrade A/B and post-upgrade V) fighter jets were sent but it did not necessarily mean an escalating action. It might be that the old Mirage 2000 and F-5E/F had to take a break.
The Taiwan Navy’s Cheng Kung-class and Knox-class frigates and Kidd-class destroyers are also old-fashioned.
In terms of combat power, they cannot match the PLA’s 054A, 052D and 055 destroyers. It is said that, during the exercise, the distance between the battleships of the two sides was only 1,000 meters, and even 500 meters. In the vast sea, it is a very close distance. But who has the high ground?
According to satellite images, the closest distance between the Nanking 155 destroyer and the coastline near Hualien was less than 10 kilometers. The Nanking 155 was very close to Taiwan’s ROCN Lan Yang and it forced the latter to move backward.
Taiwanese media boasted that ROCN Lan Yang had opened the cover of its Hsiung Feng anti-ship missile launcher to try to scare the PLA off. Not to mention that the PLA has much more powerful missiles, Taiwan’s anti-ship missiles could not be used at such a close distance.
Only Naval artillery was useful. But Taiwan’s old Mk-42 127mm gun also could not beat the PLA’s new H/PJ38 130mm naval gun.
The Nanking 155 did not go there to attack the ROCN Lan Yang. If it had, it could have used its H/PJ38, which has a range of 30 km. It only wanted to highlight the illegality of Taiwan’s 12 nautical mile line. The political significance of this mission, together with other drills, greatly exceeded the military significance.
In terms of range, China’s guided bombs with glide and long-range rockets can cover all targets on the island.
At close distance, the PLA can use a large amount of low-cost short-range ammunition. That is the core while highly precision-guided weapons are only supplementary.
Chen Feng is a columnist of Guancha.cn, which originally published this article in Chinese as an exclusive manuscript. It is republished in English translation here with permission. The content of the article is purely the author’s personal opinion, and does not represent the opinion of either Guancha or Asia Times. It may not be republished elsewhere without authorization.