A new report by Rand Corporation concludes that Taiwan needs to rethink its air defence capabilities, favouring surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) over fighter aircraft to provide a credible deterrent and ensure the potential to contest its own airspace.
The report — “Air Defense Options for Taiwan” — notes that Taiwan faces one of the most difficult air defence problems in the world, due to its proximity to China and the massive investments that the People's Republic of China has made in a range of systems that threaten Taiwan's aircraft.
The authors declare that China's fighter aircraft capabilities have surpassed those of Taiwan in the air. Furthermore, according to the report, China possesses the capability to destroy all of Taiwan's aircraft at their bases. Thus, Taiwan needs to rethink how it can accomplish its air defence goals.
The report analyzes how Taiwan might approach air defence, by downsizing and shifting its fighter aircraft force to focus on coercive scenarios, increasing its investment in SAMs, and dedicating its surface-based air defence to becoming an enduring warfighting capability able to contribute throughout the duration of a sustained and effective defence of Taiwan.
Among the report’s key findings:
- Taiwan's fighter force is vulnerable to missile attack while on the ground, outnumbered in the air and less capable in the air than the latest PLA aircraft.
- Multilayered SAMs can become an important contributor to Taiwan's defence as enablers of other defensive operations but not to defend fixed targets.
- Taiwan needs more-mobile and shorter-range air defence systems to complement its existing Patriot and TK forces.
- Taiwan can afford new SAM investments if it divests some of its existing fighter aircraft fleet.