Rapid advances over the past few years in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Rocket Force have expanded the power projection capability of its guided missile force, meaning that if a war were to break out with China, all of Taiwan’s airbases, ports, radar stations and military command centers would come under a devastating, sustained attack by PLA missiles.
After having been pulverized by wave after wave of PLA guided missiles, the military would probably no longer be capable of mustering a robust aerial counterattack.
Given the elevated threat from the PLA’s Rocket Force, in addition to purchasing new types of fighter jets, the government should consider converting commercial container ships into missile platforms to provide an additional defense against PLA missiles.
Due to the relatively low production cost of container ships and the broadly non-sensitive nature of the equipment that would need to be installed, the government could require a specific number of container ships to be converted for military use, equipping them with the capability to carry anti-aircraft and cruise missiles.
These ships could be used in “hit-and-run” attacks against the enemy, which would help to increase the military’s ability to survive on the battlefield.
Equipping container ships would have several advantages:
First, container ships are relatively easily to conceal. In a wartime situation, either side would focus their attention on neutralizing the threat from military vessels.
As civilian container ships are more difficult for militaries to identify than navy warships, when loaded with missiles, they would become a lethal weapon to defend against an attacking Chinese military.
Second, the PLA would have difficulty detecting whether a converted container ship was carrying missiles, giving them a higher chance of survival than military surface ships.
If Taiwan could fit out about four to eight container ships of differing sizes and types to carry the domestically manufactured Hsiung Feng IIE cruise missiles and deploy them in coastal waters off the north, south and east of Taiwan proper, the military would be equipped with a potent long-range strike capability.
Third, if the military could increase the number of guided missile launch platforms, this would force China to divert more resources toward bolstering its own defensive capabilities.
During a wartime scenario, the PLA would need to provide its attacking forces more defensive assets for cover and surveillance to counter the threat from Taiwanese missiles.
This would slow down the attack, giving the military more time to redeploy its forces around Taiwan and buying more time for the outside world to come to its aid.
Finally, missile-equipped container ships would function as an additional layer of defense within Taiwan’s multilayered strategic deterrent force and bring into play a genuine asymmetric warfare capability.
From a practical standpoint, Israel Aerospace Industries has successfully tested its LORA (long range attack) hypersonic, quasi-ballistic missile, which can be launched from a standard intermodal shipping container.
Years ago, Israel incorporated asymmetric warfare into its defense strategy. Taiwan’s government and military no longer have any excuse.
Ray Song is a graduate of National Chung Cheng University’s Institute of Strategic and International Affairs.
Translated by Edward Jones
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