Sufficiently Grave

In 2013, China would likely prevail over the US and Taiwan in an air war over the Taiwan Strait, potentially clearing the way for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, finds the new RAND study “A Question of Balance,” released Wednesday. In fact, “a credible case can be made that the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the blue air forces have even fired a shot,” write RAND’s authors in the 185-page monograph. Even the presence of a large force of F-22s in the fight would not change the final outcome. This “sobering” picture, RAND states, is a “substantially less optimistic” assessment for the Taiwan and US side than the think tank’s 2000 study that examined cross-strait battle scenarios circa 2005. RAND’s analysts attribute this bleaker prognosis to an evolving set of circumstances that “have changed the character of the air war.” These include: China’s growing short-range ballistic missile force, along with its cruise missiles, that places the bases that Taiwan and the US would rely upon to defend Taiwan—including Kadena Air Base on Okinawa—in danger of attack and incapacitation; and China’s accelerated pace of air force modernization that has allowed it to field or be near fielding “sizable numbers” of advanced fighters like the Su-27/J-11, Su-30, and J-10 to challenge Taiwan and US supremacy. RAND says such an air war is likely to be “intense and play out rapidly,” lasting perhaps only four days.