PLA Strategy in a Taiwan Contingency


Bltizo

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On the contrary, I think the war in Ukraine has proven the viability of helicopters in a MANPAD rich environment, where attack helicopters are a primary source of Russian ground attack air power (I know that’s more down to how bad their fixed wing fleet is proving to be in strike, but the point is they are able to continue to viably use them despite Ukraine probably being the most densely MANPAD defended airspace in the world right now).

While they are taking looses, it’s hardly crippling and the losses are overwhelmingly falling on their attack helicopters rather than transports.

Their Ka52s do have an advantage in speed which is really useful, but I think the key to successful large scale air assault on the modern battlefield is scale.

The biggest weakness with MANPADs are short range and man-mobile.

That means you need to spread them out, which means spreading them thin; and it means they are limited to the speed of the man carrying them, which means you cannot realistically expect to be able to surge them to meet a fast approaching threat. That is why large scale air assault works while individual lone ship runs tend to get shot down.

The key is to have attack helicopters work as line breakers and escorts where the first thing enemy MANPAD operators see are waves of attack helicopters for them to expend their munitions against while the transports follow shortly after and runs like hell to their objectives.

If you throw in potentially operational future weapons like swarm drones deployed by munitions dispensers flying in ahead of the helicopter fleet and spamming the ingress and egress routes with loitering suicide swarm drones that can automatically navigate complex terrain like forests and ID and track humans in said terrain and the balance shifts overwhelmingly in favour of the attacker.

I do include the presence of attack helicopters as part of any prospective heliborne/air assault package. But that doesn't change my belief that large scale heliborne assaults in a Taiwan contingency (at least into the medium term future) are likely to be non-viable.


What I mean by heliborne assaults, is where helicopters help to transport, and ingress ground combat units (often light infantry) with support from other supporting assets (including but not limited to attack helicopters, fixed wing air support etc), to seize and hold terrain that are often behind enemy lines and/or which are not secured.
The US Army definition of air assault states it well: "an operation in which assault forces (combat, combat support, and combat service support), using the firepower, mobility, and total integration of helicopter assets, maneuver on the battlefield under the control of the ground or air maneuver commander to engage and destroy enemy forces or to seize and hold key terrain usually behind enemy lines."


I am stating that large scale heliborne/air assaults in a Taiwan contingency is likely very difficult to pull off and likely not worth the risk, due to a combination of:
- Proliferation of MANPADS and low altitude air defenses in the ROC military, even in a degraded air defense environment (due to the relative low profile and mobility of MANPADS and low altitude air defense systems).
- The geography of Taiwan island itself and the relatively high population density near most targets of interest that would be relevant to a large scale heliborne assault, which would greatly reduce if not outright neutralize the advantages of mobility and speed, which in turn places the deployed forces from the helicopters (aka basically light infantry) at significant risk of enemy counter in a manner where the enemy can outmass them as well as deploy much heavier units (again, even in an environment where enemy ground forces have been degraded).
- The sheer demands of ISR and constant fixed wing CAS capability (and in turn, the demands on SEAD/DEAD) to allow your heliborne assault forces to hold terrain against anything resembling a conventional military, is one that very few military forces in the world can do. Almost certainly, the PLA currently are unable to do so.

Individually, the above factors might be something that the PLA could deal with. But when you add all of those risks together as virtually guaranteed to be present in a Taiwan contingency, I think the only way in which a large scale heliborne assault would be worthwhile is if the objective of interest was of overriding, campaign altering value.
(And when I say "large scale" I mean operations involving multiple dozens of transport helicopters)


I believe small sized heliborne assaults/insertions most certainly could be viable, and medium sized heliborne assaults if done in close coordination with ground forces with ground forces able to rapidly relieve them, could also be viable.



Just for the record, I absolutely agree that attack helicopters in general are relevant in a Taiwan contingency. There are many fire support missions that only attack helicopters can do, and I believe that the fire support and airborne surveillance capabilities offered by attack helicopters is vital to support ground maneuver units. Close coordination of attack helicopters with ground maneuver units would be a major factor that would influence the outcomes of the amphibious and ground phases of the conflict.
 

Ex0

New Member
Registered Member
I don't disagree with you. In fact, I agree with your arguments.

Notice I didn't specify the tactics in deploying these airborne troops. I merely point out these are the forces that will be or may well be deployed as well as their platforms in such a contingency.

I believe how the airborne troop will be deployed probably depends on how the war will unfold. They may be used opportunistically. I think their main advantage is the speed and availability. One thing I do agree is that they will not be in the first waves and they will only be deployed when the risks from MANPADS and other threats are minimal or minimized.

Manpads cannot reach the altitude of y20 and high altitude air drops right? If you can minimize manpad threats then that would mean china already controls the ground in Taiwan and has ground troops. If they can do that then they can just secure landing sites and dock and unload from ships already.

They should use them after securing sea and air superiority, and after destroying all the Sam sites etc, to open up room behind enemy lines and allow helicopters to come in, and attempt amphibious landing(the risky parts). Under cover fire and cover bombardment of course, with drones in the sky everywhere relevant. Of course it all depends on the timing and how things go but that's how I would use them generally.
 

plawolf

Brigadier
I do include the presence of attack helicopters as part of any prospective heliborne/air assault package. But that doesn't change my belief that large scale heliborne assaults in a Taiwan contingency (at least into the medium term future) are likely to be non-viable.


What I mean by heliborne assaults, is where helicopters help to transport, and ingress ground combat units (often light infantry) with support from other supporting assets (including but not limited to attack helicopters, fixed wing air support etc), to seize and hold terrain that are often behind enemy lines and/or which are not secured.
The US Army definition of air assault states it well: "an operation in which assault forces (combat, combat support, and combat service support), using the firepower, mobility, and total integration of helicopter assets, maneuver on the battlefield under the control of the ground or air maneuver commander to engage and destroy enemy forces or to seize and hold key terrain usually behind enemy lines."


I am stating that large scale heliborne/air assaults in a Taiwan contingency is likely very difficult to pull off and likely not worth the risk, due to a combination of:
- Proliferation of MANPADS and low altitude air defenses in the ROC military, even in a degraded air defense environment (due to the relative low profile and mobility of MANPADS and low altitude air defense systems).
- The geography of Taiwan island itself and the relatively high population density near most targets of interest that would be relevant to a large scale heliborne assault, which would greatly reduce if not outright neutralize the advantages of mobility and speed, which in turn places the deployed forces from the helicopters (aka basically light infantry) at significant risk of enemy counter in a manner where the enemy can outmass them as well as deploy much heavier units (again, even in an environment where enemy ground forces have been degraded).
- The sheer demands of ISR and constant fixed wing CAS capability (and in turn, the demands on SEAD/DEAD) to allow your heliborne assault forces to hold terrain against anything resembling a conventional military, is one that very few military forces in the world can do. Almost certainly, the PLA currently are unable to do so.

Individually, the above factors might be something that the PLA could deal with. But when you add all of those risks together as virtually guaranteed to be present in a Taiwan contingency, I think the only way in which a large scale heliborne assault would be worthwhile is if the objective of interest was of overriding, campaign altering value.
(And when I say "large scale" I mean operations involving multiple dozens of transport helicopters)


I believe small sized heliborne assaults/insertions most certainly could be viable, and medium sized heliborne assaults if done in close coordination with ground forces with ground forces able to rapidly relieve them, could also be viable.



Just for the record, I absolutely agree that attack helicopters in general are relevant in a Taiwan contingency. There are many fire support missions that only attack helicopters can do, and I believe that the fire support and airborne surveillance capabilities offered by attack helicopters is vital to support ground maneuver units. Close coordination of attack helicopters with ground maneuver units would be a major factor that would influence the outcomes of the amphibious and ground phases of the conflict.

The obvious question to all of that is why are you trying to shoehorn a scenario that is manifestly not suitable for the Taiwan scenario at hand to start with?

Is the PLA going to do a Hostomel reenactment? Of course not, why would they want or need to?

But I think a massed air assault to cut off the defenders of the PLA main landing beachhead is very much a viable and useful tool and tactic to take and hold key transport choke points to cut off reinforcements and also to weaken resistance at the beachhead by threatening the defenders with assault from the rear.

I see the air assault making landfall some distance from the actual beachhead to avoid the bulk of defences and mass of incoming PLA ordinance pummelling the beachhead, and the cut across the rear flanks to drop off troops where they need to be. The transport helos would then egress, probably via the same route they came in; while any attack helicopters with sufficient munitions and flares would move to the beachhead to add to the bombardment and provide air support for the amphibious assault.

Under such a scenario, localised ISR cover, SEAD/DEAD of heavy SAMs and massive CAS are already a given or the whole thing is a waste of time and lives. Geographical limitations to mobility are essentially a non-issue as the whole point of the air assault is to dig in and stay put until relieved by friendly ground forces. So the only thing left is MANPADs which is mitigated by the sheer volume of attackers and the firepower that will be unleashed. Any enemy massed ground push against the airborne will be subject to near immediate air and naval fire support missions.

Other, similar large scale air assaults might be launched to try to seize port facilities relatively intact to minimise damage the defenders can do to help speed up troop landings using ROROs etc. But the same core fundamentals remain the same when it comes to proper support.

Air assault is only a bad idea if you want to do Russian style Leroy Jenkins lone wolf banzai charges way deeper into the enemy core than you could reasonably support, supply or reinforce/relieve in a reasonably timely manner.
 

Bltizo

Lieutenant General
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The obvious question to all of that is why are you trying to shoehorn a scenario that is manifestly not suitable for the Taiwan scenario at hand to start with?

Is the PLA going to do a Hostomel reenactment? Of course not, why would they want or need to?

I mentioned it in passing as something non-viable for a Taiwan scenario, in relation to weig's raising of a point of what I interpreted as discussion about the viability of airborne/paratrooper drops.



But I think a massed air assault to cut off the defenders of the PLA main landing beachhead is very much a viable and useful tool and tactic to take and hold key transport choke points to cut off reinforcements and also to weaken resistance at the beachhead by threatening the defenders with assault from the rear.

I see the air assault making landfall some distance from the actual beachhead to avoid the bulk of defences and mass of incoming PLA ordinance pummelling the beachhead, and the cut across the rear flanks to drop off troops where they need to be. The transport helos would then egress, probably via the same route they came in; while any attack helicopters with sufficient munitions and flares would move to the beachhead to add to the bombardment and provide air support for the amphibious assault.

Under such a scenario, localised ISR cover, SEAD/DEAD of heavy SAMs and massive CAS are already a given or the whole thing is a waste of time and lives. Geographical limitations to mobility are essentially a non-issue as the whole point of the air assault is to dig in and stay put until relieved by friendly ground forces. So the only thing left is MANPADs which is mitigated by the sheer volume of attackers and the firepower that will be unleashed. Any enemy massed ground push against the airborne will be subject to near immediate air and naval fire support missions.

Other, similar large scale air assaults might be launched to try to seize port facilities relatively intact to minimise damage the defenders can do to help speed up troop landings using ROROs etc. But the same core fundamentals remain the same when it comes to proper support.

Air assault is only a bad idea if you want to do Russian style Leroy Jenkins lone wolf banzai charges way deeper into the enemy core than you could reasonably support, supply or reinforce/relieve in a reasonably timely manner.

Like I said, if key capabilities on station could be guaranteed, such as very very robust ISR and CAS availability, with very high likelihood of being rapidly relieved, then perhaps such a mission could be undertaken if it was deemed important.

However I do not believe PLA ISR and CAS capability are quite that dynamic or sufficiently capable.
Additionally, they would already be conducting a very complex and risky operation simultaneously or very close in time (the amphibious assault) which is one that they cannot avoid as part of a Taiwan contingency. Conducting another complex large scale heliborne/air assault as a major component of that operation would require substantial additional resources and demands on command and coordination.


Overall, my view is that large scale heliborne assaults in a Taiwan contingency would be very risky, very demanding and difficult to pull off successfully and would be difficult for your landed forces to regroup or recover from if your assault fails. They should not be undertaken unless substantial robust joint supports are provided (namely ISR and CAS), and even then, the objective must be of sufficient value in the first place.
Large scale heliborne assaults, are in contrast to a large scale amphibious assault, because while both types of operations are complex and risky and very demanding -- large scale amphibious assaults is one which I believe compulsory and cannot be avoided as part of a Taiwan invasion operation. Large scale heliborne assaults OTOH, are far less compulsory/essential and very much optional.
 

luosifen

Junior Member
Registered Member
Would a mission to capture or at least pin down the DPP leadership and prevent their escape be worth an airborne assault, in your opinion?
 

plawolf

Brigadier
Would a mission to capture or at least pin down the DPP leadership and prevent their escape be worth an airborne assault, in your opinion?
Nope, worth a few missiles for sure, but I wouldn’t waste the lives of brave soldiers to try to take them alive.

The good thing with Taiwan is that it’s an island. Impose a no-fly zone with the will to enforce it even if the Americans try their luck and there is nowhere for them to run to and they will be killed or captured eventually.
 

plawolf

Brigadier
Like I said, if key capabilities on station could be guaranteed, such as very very robust ISR and CAS availability, with very high likelihood of being rapidly relieved, then perhaps such a mission could be undertaken if it was deemed important.

However I do not believe PLA ISR and CAS capability are quite that dynamic or sufficiently capable.
Additionally, they would already be conducting a very complex and risky operation simultaneously or very close in time (the amphibious assault) which is one that they cannot avoid as part of a Taiwan contingency. Conducting another complex large scale heliborne/air assault as a major component of that operation would require substantial additional resources and demands on command and coordination.


Overall, my view is that large scale heliborne assaults in a Taiwan contingency would be very risky, very demanding and difficult to pull off successfully and would be difficult for your landed forces to regroup or recover from if your assault fails. They should not be undertaken unless substantial robust joint supports are provided (namely ISR and CAS), and even then, the objective must be of sufficient value in the first place.
Large scale heliborne assaults, are in contrast to a large scale amphibious assault, because while both types of operations are complex and risky and very demanding -- large scale amphibious assaults is one which I believe compulsory and cannot be avoided as part of a Taiwan invasion operation. Large scale heliborne assaults OTOH, are far less compulsory/essential and very much optional.

The issue is that you seem to want to treat an airborne assault in aid of a landing as a separate and discrete mission instead of part of the overall landings operation. Would you treat the airborne assault on D-Day as a separate and unrelated operation to Overlord?

All of the ISR and SEAD/DEAD and other support activities undertaken to underpin the viability of the amphibious landings would also directly contribute to laying the necessary foundations for an air calv massed assault into the same AO.

The purpose and mission of the airborne would be to aid and increase the likelihood of a successful amphibious assault while also looking to reduce the losses from said assault by diverting and delaying enemy reinforcements and supplies.

In warfare, as in any direct confrontation of skill, will and endurance between peoples and teams, there are risks to inaction as well as deliberate action.

Sure, adding an air calv assault is not strictly necessary for a successful amphibious assault; it does add more complexity and risk and demands more resources and capabilities from you. But that also applies to the opposition. The point isn’t to play a ‘perfect’ game, but to beat the opponent. And rarely in warfare has doing the bare minimum you can get away with been the best combat strategy.
 

Bltizo

Lieutenant General
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The issue is that you seem to want to treat an airborne assault in aid of a landing as a separate and discrete mission instead of part of the overall landings operation. Would you treat the airborne assault on D-Day as a separate and unrelated operation to Overlord?

Well, I do consider the airborne/paratrooper assault as separate from the amphibious landings at the beach, yes, though of course both are major components of the overall operation.


All of the ISR and SEAD/DEAD and other support activities undertaken to underpin the viability of the amphibious landings would also directly contribute to laying the necessary foundations for an air calv massed assault into the same AO.

The purpose and mission of the airborne would be to aid and increase the likelihood of a successful amphibious assault while also looking to reduce the losses from said assault by diverting and delaying enemy reinforcements and supplies.

In warfare, as in any direct confrontation of skill, will and endurance between peoples and teams, there are risks to inaction as well as deliberate action.

Sure, adding an air calv assault is not strictly necessary for a successful amphibious assault; it does add more complexity and risk and demands more resources and capabilities from you. But that also applies to the opposition. The point isn’t to play a ‘perfect’ game, but to beat the opponent. And rarely in warfare has doing the bare minimum you can get away with been the best combat strategy.

I understand that, and I understand the value that a potentially successful heliborne operation could bring.

I'm saying that in this specific geographical environment, against the opfor arrayed, and (most importantly) when assessing the degree of current and foreseeable future PLA capabilities of relevance (specifically, their ISR and CAS capabilities), I do not think that a large scale heliborne assault would be a worthwhile action to take in a Taiwan contingency, due to the likelihood of failure.
 

weig2000

Senior Member
Manpads cannot reach the altitude of y20 and high altitude air drops right? If you can minimize manpad threats then that would mean china already controls the ground in Taiwan and has ground troops. If they can do that then they can just secure landing sites and dock and unload from ships already.

They should use them after securing sea and air superiority, and after destroying all the Sam sites etc, to open up room behind enemy lines and allow helicopters to come in, and attempt amphibious landing(the risky parts). Under cover fire and cover bombardment of course, with drones in the sky everywhere relevant. Of course it all depends on the timing and how things go but that's how I would use them generally.

Ok, it looks like my including the airborne corps in my initial post has caused a lot more debates and discussions than I expected or intended. Like I said, I was just trying to lay out the availability of troops and platforms. These Y-20/IL-76 might airdrop personnel and equipment, but they may also land in airports after the airports are secured, etc. etc.
 

weig2000

Senior Member
Fair enough.

I thought the mention of transport aircraft and airborne was in context during the first waves or during active hostilities.

That said, I would actually be a bit more cautious than you and say that the use of transport aircraft in a Taiwan contingency would probably only be relevant after virtually all conventional warfighting capability of the ROC military is neutralized, and even then they would only likely perform in an aerial resupply role

Again, I think the airborne troops are optional and opportunistic, depending upon how the war unfolds.

As an aside and related topic, how helicopters are deployed in a Taiwan contingency is probably more relevant, as PLA/PLAN rapidly increases the sizes of their helicopter fleets. Here we're not just talking about helicopters carried by 075s and 071s, but more importantly those flying directly from the mainland to Taiwan as the distance is not very long. I've read before some retired general (vice commander of Nanjing Military District, no less) also talked about Army helicopters potentially leveraging 075s as staging platforms in between mainland and Taiwan. In that case, a lot more helicopters will be available.

The airborne part, both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, is relatively new and emerging platforms for PLA. They probably need some time and experience to integrate them into their overall plan and strategy.

Yes, and 076s are arguably less important to a Taiwan contingency than 075s, 071s and especially LSTs are.

Personally I wonder when we will see the next wave of 075s (075As?) and 071s be built, and how long it would take to reach the 8/16 fleet described.
Especially with the move of HDZH. That said, they've demonstrated the ability to build 075s and 071s fairly quickly, so who knows.

I believe the bottleneck is personnel and operation and tactics. These 075s are their first LHDs. They'll start to build new batches after a while I suppose.
 

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