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US plans 'Hellscape' drone swarm in Taiwan war

US plans 'Hellscape' drone swarm in Taiwan war
US plans 'Hellscape' drone swarm in Taiwan war


The United States plans to turn the Taiwan Strait into a hellscape of drone swarms against a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, buying time for a U.S. and allied intervention to help the besieged self-ruled island in a scenario of war.

This month, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, led by Admiral Samuel Paparo, announced a Hellscape strategy aimed at using drone swarms to thwart any possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

According to the report, the Hellscape plan responds to Chinese President Xi Jinping's directive that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) must be combat ready to take Taiwan by force, if necessary, by 2027.

The US plan involves using numerous unmanned drones, submarines, surface ships and other classified capabilities to invade the Taiwan Strait to slow down Chinese forces for a month to allow the US and its allies to put in place a complete response.

Consistent with the Fabian approach to Hellscape strategies, Asia Times noted in a February 2024 report that Taiwan was most vulnerable to defeat during the first 90 days of a Chinese invasion and would most likely fall quickly without U.S. military intervention and ally.

However, the Washington Post notes that the PLA's rapid expansion and U.S. military budgetary constraints present significant challenges to implementing the Hellscape strategy.

For example, Asia Times noted that the US Navy's drone budget would fall to $101.8 million in 2025, from $172 million this year. Additionally, the US Navy remains committed to building major combatants such as destroyers and submarines instead of fully adopting drone technology.

In contrast, China has a shipbuilding capacity 232 times that of the United States, making it urgent for the latter to invest in unmanned technology as a force multiplier to offset the former's numerical advantage. The United States has thus accelerated the development and deployment of swarms of drones in the Pacific thanks to its Replicator program.

In September 2023, Asia Times reported that the US Department of Defense (DOD) introduced the Replicator program to accelerate the deployment of expendable autonomous platforms for air, land and maritime operations.

Replicator seeks to produce affordable autonomous drones at scale and implement a rapid and scalable technology development process. Additionally, this could involve a program to create large unmanned underwater vehicles in partnership with the US Navy.

Replicator may already be making progress. In May 2024, Asia Times reported that the United States, incorporating lessons learned from the war in Ukraine, had included its Switchblade tank-killing kamikaze drone in its program, while also exploring unmanned suicide boat designs to low cost.

Drone swarms could prove decisive in repelling a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, overwhelming Chinese defenses while boosting the capabilities of manned assets.

In May 2022, Asia Times reported that the US Air Force, in collaboration with think tank RAND Corporation and the Air Forces Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC) office, had conducted simulations revealing the potential of autonomous drone swarms to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. .

Defense researcher David Ochmanek highlighted the simulations in an online discussion suggesting that drone swarms using a laser data-sharing mesh network could be crucial to securing US victory.

This network allows drones to instantly share flight and targeting data, making the swarm autonomous and potentially overwhelming China's anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, which include ballistic and cruise missiles , anti-satellite weapons and advanced air defense networks.

When paired with manned stealth aircraft like the F-35 and F-22, drone swarms could serve as decoys and expand the detection capabilities of manned platforms, increasing situational awareness and deployment. target acquisition.

However, Ochmanek expressed concerns about technological maturity, citing vulnerabilities to electronic warfare, cyberattacks and bandwidth limitations. He also noted that the 2020 simulation resulted in a Pyrrhic American victory, contrasting with previous simulations in which the United States fared poorly.

Despite drones' potential to disarm the battlefield, the war in Ukraine shows that they have made the battlefield more deadly, and a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait would likely be the same.

In January 2023, Asia Times reported that the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank had conducted a simulation of a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 2026, suggesting that the United States and their allies could repel the attack, but they would. cause heavy losses for all parties.

The CSIS simulation estimates that the United States and Japan would lose 449 combat aircraft, 43 ships (including two aircraft carriers), and 6,960 personnel, with 3,200 deaths. Taiwan, on the other hand, was to lose half its air force, 22 ships and 3,500 ground troops, a third of whom were killed in action.

China lost 138 ships, 155 warplanes and 52,000 ground troops, with approximately 7,000 combat casualties, 15,000 deaths at sea and 30,000 prisoners of war.

The CSIS report lays out four critical assumptions for a U.S. victory, emphasizing the importance of Taiwan's resistance, the lack of resupply options for Taiwan, the U.S. ability to use bases in Japan, and the need to strike from outside China's A2/AD bubble.

The report warns, however, that a Pyrrhic American victory could compromise long-term deterrence. It suggested that China might risk an invasion if it perceived the United States' reluctance to suffer heavy losses.

While military authorities such as Paparo are obsessed with a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the heavy losses involved in a Normandy-style cross-Strait invasion mean that China likely did not prefer the preferred route to incorporating Taiwan into the mainland.

In August 2022, Asia Times mentioned that China may develop a squeeze-and-soften strategy to starve Taiwan into capitulating via an indefinite naval blockade. Taiwan reportedly has only 11 days of natural gas reserves and 146 days of oil. Such an approach assumes that China has time and can avoid overextending itself in an operation to take Taiwan.

The strategy involves conducting a series of military exercises around Taiwan, effectively acting as a blockade. These exercises would be followed by periods of reduced tension to facilitate discussions. The key point is that any major military exercise, which Beijing launches with increasing frequency, could turn into a blockade.

In May 2024, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) released a report outlining non-military methods China could employ against Taiwan, focusing on attacking four centers of gravity.

The ISW report highlights China's potential use of economic pressure, propaganda and military threats to persuade US and Taiwanese leaders of the benefits of increased cooperation. Additionally, he mentions tactics such as eroding the legitimacy of the Taiwanese government, psychological tactics aimed at undermining public morale, and implementing disinformation efforts aimed at reducing public and political support for the United States. United in Taiwan.

He asserts that if China succeeds in attacking these centers of gravity with non-kinetic means, the Taiwanese people will feel an immense sense of abandonment and the new Taiwanese government will be forced to consider a new model of cross-strait relations.

ISW asserts that the United States and Taiwan are unprepared to face a multi-year campaign of coercion aimed at forcing Taiwan into eventual surrender and annexation by China.




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