Island Chains Policies and Taiwan’s Defense

U.S. AND JAPAN’S ISLAND CHAIN POLICIES CRITICAL TO TAIWAN’S DEFENSE

In a recent report assessing the future missions of the four Keelung (Kidd) class destroyers that were recently commissioned into the Taiwanese Navy, Chien-tuan K’o chi (Defense Technology Monthly) senior editor Chang Li-teh argued that understanding U.S. and Japanese military policies toward Japan’s island chain is critical for Taiwanese military planners. In the event of a conflict across the Taiwan Strait, whether Chinese ships and aircraft are permitted to pass through the waters will heavily influence the operations undertaken by the Taiwanese military. The island chain that extends southward from Japan’s Ryukyu Islands includes a significant portion of the East China Sea, and if left open for the Chinese navy to pass through, would significantly stretch the capabilities of Taiwan’s four naval task forces, each of which depends upon the Keelung-class destroyer to provide anti-air coverage. The ideal scenario would of course be an intervention by U.S. forces that consists of engaging all PLA ships and aircraft, though Chang notes that a third possibility in which Japan’s territorial waters and its exclusive economic zones would be prohibited from entrance by either side would be beneficial to the Taiwanese navy as well. With the northern waters sealed off from intrusions by Chinese surface vessels, Taiwan’s naval fleets operating on its eastern coast would only need to be concerned with threats from enemy submarines. Given the distinct operational challenges of each scenario, there is a pressing need for Taiwanese military planners to increase the current levels of dialogue with their U.S. and Japanese counterparts so as to adequately prepare for the most likely situation.