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Ballistic Missile Defense Key To Defending Taiwan

Oplan 5077 was expanded and finalized in 2005 following a 2004 guidance from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (pictured). Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington (UPI) Jun 12, 2006
Ballistic missile defense is taking center stage in the looming confrontation between the United States and China over the status of Taiwan. Recent reports in the Washington Post and the Taiwan Times have purported to reveal details of the top secret U.S. Department of Defense war plan to protect Taiwan in the face of any Chinese attack.

According to the reports the plan, code-named Oplan 5077-04, includes provision for the use of nuclear weapons by U.S. forces and for the use of U.S. anti-ballistic missile defense weapons to defend the island of 25 million people.

William Arkin wrote in an article published on the Washington Post Web site on May 24 that Oplan 5077 dates back more than 20 years to the Reagan administration. But the plan was expanded and finalized in 2005 following a 2004 guidance from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

In addition to the deployment and operational use of U.S. ground, naval amphibious and air forces, the plan also includes provisions for missile defense forces, Arkin wrote,

Under the Bush administration, the Taiwan Times reported on Monday, the Oplan 5077 was elevated "to an operational component of the (U.S.) Pacific Command."

"Many credit its current status as a final strategy for dealing with a Chinese attack with former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Dennis Blair," the Taiwan Times report said.

Arkin, in his report, noted that in recent years the Bush administration has put greater importance on missile defense. He noted that in the event of any Sino-American confrontation over Taiwan "an improved naval missile defense capability ... would allow the United States to interpose itself between Taiwan and China."

Such a missile defense deployment, in fact, could take different forms or be composed of different layers. The most obvious level would be the deployment of U.S. Aegis missile cruisers and destroyers armed with Standard Missile 3s, or SM-3s to try and shoot down Chinese short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan.

But the costly and strategically vital Aegis warships, like the huge 80,000 ton nuclear aircraft carriers that are the core of the U.S. surface fleet and the backbone of U.S. ship-to-shore power projection around the world are vulnerable themselves. They would have to be defended by phalanxes of smaller anti-ballistic missile systems that could protect them against China's own Silkworm and Sunburn ship-to-ship or shore-to-ship tactical missiles.

The Russian built and designed Sunburn -- known by the Chinese as the Hai Ying or Sea Eagle HY2 -- in particular is designed to be a U.S. carrier killer. It can fly at Mach 2.5, or two and half times the speed of sound -- around 1,700 miles per hour carrying an almost 500-pound warhead. And it can deliver a tactical nuclear weapon.

Even without that, the British experience in the 1982 Falklands War nearly a quarter century ago showed that small, fast modern high-tech cruisers and destroyers are extremely vulnerable to anti-ship missile attack. They are built with light metals that burn easily. They do not carry the massive armor protection that warships up to the World War II period did and they are filled with sensitive electronics that provide increased fire risks and that can be knocked out easily.

Even with the most advanced protection and evasion systems available, the Chinese tactical anti-ship missile deployment facing the Taiwan Strait is already so formidable that it may force major U.S. naval assets like aircraft carriers and Aegis BMD warships to operate from outside the strait itself.

As we reported in these columns on April 14, a report published this year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies warned that the U.S. Navy would not be free to operate within the Taiwan Strait, as Oplan 9077 appears to envisage, in the event of a U.S. war with China to defend Taiwan.

The report was entitled "The Paths Ahead: Missile Defense in Asia" and was prepared by Kurt Campbell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, and CSIS senior fellow Jeremiah Gertler.

Campbell and Gertler concluded, "Given the cost tradeoffs and a booming economy, China could easily continue to deploy six or seven offensive missiles for every Taiwanese defensive missile to overwhelm the island's defenses."

And they warned that new Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles, submarines and fast-attack boats were poised to create "the capability to push U.S. ships out of even marginally-effective missile defense range."

"Even if U.S. AEGIS ships find a way to survive in an increasingly hostile anti-access environment, they face a real challenge to effectively defending Taiwan," the report said. "That leaves the brunt of Taiwan's missile defense to PAC-3" and other new U.S. systems, the Campbell-Gertler report said.

The face off between Chinese anti-ship missiles and U.S. sea-based BMD systems is not the only ballistic missile race involving China and Taiwan. On Jan. 19, we noted in these columns, citing a report in Jane's Defense Weekly, that Taiwan has highly ambitiously plans to produce at least 50 of its own Hsiung Feng, or Brave Wind, 2E cruise missiles by 2010 and eventually it plans to produce and deploy no less than 500 of them. JDW also reported that Taiwan has already home-produced three prototypes of the weapon.

Now the Pentagon's plan to deploy U.S. anti-ballistic missile defense to protect Taiwan adds another layer to this complex, volatile strategic balance. The BMD race over Taiwan therefore joins the Israel-Iran stand-off and the one between India and Pakistan as the world's potentially most dangerous nuclear missile/BMD flash points.

Source: United Press International

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