China could make it ‘Hell in the Pacific’ for the US

The People’s Liberation Army forces have become a sophisticated weapon that could rapidly take Taiwan

Former US Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has spelled out America’s looming Taiwan crisis in a manner that couldn’t be more explicit.

In the Pentagon’s most realistic war games to simulate a Chinese attack on the democratic island, the score was 18-0 with Team USA scoring a fat zero. Talk about Hell in the Pacific.

The reason for the scoreline was quite simple, according to a report by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Graham Allison for Defense One. The People’s Liberation Army has been transformed into a sophisticated fighting force.

“[It is no longer] a peasant-based infantry army that was very, very large in 1979,” Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told Allison.

“[Now, it’s] a very capable military that covers all the domains and has global ambitions,” Milley said.

Admiral James Winnefeld, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was just as gloomy. Writing last year for the US Naval Institute, he said that China had the capability to take Taiwan before Washington had even decided how to respond.

Chinese mainland

Part of the problem is that the island is as close to the Chinese mainland as Cuba is to the United States.

Back in the mid-1990s that did not really matter when Beijing triggered a crisis by conducting “missile tests” to deter Taiwan from a move toward independence. 

In a show of superiority that forced China to back down, the US deployed two aircraft carriers. Today, that option is not even on the table. 

So how did things change so quickly?

Documents showed in a new report what has happened in the arms race, according to a Harvard China Working Group series entitled, The Great Rivalry: China vs the US in the 21st Century. 

“For decades the US has enjoyed uncontested or dominant superiority in every operating domain,” former US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in reference to the 2018 National Defense Strategy.

China’s deadly J-16 fighter has been part of military operations near Taiwan. Photo: PLA

“We could generally deploy our forces when we wanted, assemble them where we wanted, and operate how we wanted,” he added.

But not anymore.“Today, every domain is contested – air, land, sea, space and cyberspace,” Mattis said.

In 2000, China’s PLA rolled out A2/AD, an anti-access/area denial system to prevent US forces from operating at will. Now, Beijing’s operational reach encompasses the First Island Chain that includes Taiwan and Japan’s Ryukyu Islands.

China has also made great leaps forward in other areas such as constructing missile silos in the Gobi desert to testing a nuclear-capable Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) equipped with hypersonic glide vehicles.

These developments have stunned Beijing-watchers, Harvard’s Allison pointed out, shifting the balance of military power in regions of the Asia-Pacific.

Earlier this year, Admiral Philip Davidson, then the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, issued a chilling warning during his testimony to Congress.

Training infrastructure

He said in the next four years China’s A2/AD envelope could extend to the Second Island Chain, including America’s principal installations on Guam. The US is now rapidly building military training infrastructure on the island, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the Pacific Daily News, the US Army is testing the made-in-Israel Iron Dome Missile Defense System in a two-month deployment, a significant move.

US Navy officials are also pushing the Pentagon for the versatile SM-6 missile for its defense against a potential hypersonic attack on Guam.

Apart from the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, General Milley delivered another bombshell. When “all the cards are put on the table,” the US no longer dwarfs China in defense spending, he said.

A National Interest report stressed that Beijing was rapidly on the path to parity.

American carrier groups have been operating in the South China Sea. Photo: File

Naturally, this is a frightening prospect for the US and its allies – especially Japan. Should Taiwan fall, Japan would face an imposing rival in the contested islands between the two nations.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last week that an attack on a US military vessel linked to the Taiwan Question could allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, The Japan Times reported.

The Yonaguni Island, which is Japan’s westernmost territory, is only 110 kilometers (68 miles) from Taiwan. “If something happens here, it will definitely become a crucial situation,” Abe said.

In other words, Japan’s Self-Defense Force would be allowed to extend logistical support to the US military. 

So, is it game over for the US in Taiwan? Perhaps not, as military analysts have been wrong before. And there is certainly no doubt the US will mobilize to meet the challenge. 

Combined forces

As one analyst said, “China is not ten feet tall.”

Also, not only did US Congressional leaders meet the Defense Department’s budget request for the Pentagon’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), they topped it up by another US$2.1 billion, Breaking Defense reported.

The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act now includes a total of $7.1 billion for the PDI.

And keep in mind, the combined forces of the United States remain formidable, even with Putin’s Russia threatening the Ukraine. A single US carrier group, including nuclear-powered submarines, could inflict massive damage on any nation.

Just one SSBN-726 Ohio Class submarine can carry 24 ballistic missiles with MIRV warheads. They could leave every major city in China a smoldering ruin.

But, as President John F. Kennedy once said, “nuclear deterrence is only good for deterring.”

And this game is far from being over.