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Taiwan’s “Porcupine” defensive strategy against probable Chinese invasion

The aim of the strategy, also known as ‘asymmetrical warfare’, is to make Taiwan’s defence so secure that any attacker faces a ruinous cost. It also focuses on weapons that are easily concealed such as portable Javelin and Stinger missiles over expensive and easy-to-hit tanks, warships and naval vessels

The question on everyone’s minds remain As the same – how will Taipei defend itself if China, which has vowed one day to take Taiwan ‘by force if necessary’, actually decides to follow through on its threat?

This is a question Taiwan, which cannot hope to match China’s military might and which has lived with the constant threat of Beijing for decades (now only heightened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) has carefully considered.

What’s the answer?

The ‘porcupine strategy’ (also known as asymmetrical warfare)

But what is it? How does it work? Let’s take a closer look:

The “porcupine doctrine” was proposed in 2008 by US Naval War College research professor William S Murray.

It focuses on fortifying a weak state’s defenses to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses rather than taking on its strengths.

It is about building defenses that would ensure that Taiwan “could be attacked and damaged but not defeated, at least without unacceptably high costs and risks.

Simply put, the aim of the strategy is to make Taiwan's defence so secure it imposes a ruinous cost on any potential invader.

When was it adopted? How does it work?

The strategy, describe as a “large numbers of small things" by senior US defence official which has helped Ukraine resist the Russian invasion.

Rather than focusing on buying tanks, warships, and naval vessels at eye-watering costs – all which are difficult to conceal and easy to hit with a warhead – the ‘porcupine strategy’ instead opts for flexible and easily concealed weapons such as the portable Javelin and Stinger missile systems (which Ukrainians have used to wreak havoc against Russian forces.

Taiwan has purchased large inventories of anti-air, anti-tank, and anti-ship weapons and ammunition including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and low-cost munitions like mobile coastal defence cruise missiles (CDCMs), which have the capacity to destroy China's expensive naval vessels and naval equipment.

Taipei has also bought stealth fast-attack crafts and miniature missile assault boats which are relatively inexpensive but highly effective.

They can be dispersed among fishing boats across Taiwan's ports. Sea mines and fast mine-laying ships could also complicate the landing operations of any invading navy.

Multi-layered defence

China's People's Liberation Army would need to transport a lot of soldiers and massive amount of supplies including armored vehicles, weapons, ammunition, food, medical supplies and fuel across the strait. This is only possible by sea, since airlifts and fleets of planes have limited capacity.

Taiwan’s territory includes a chain of Islands, some of them near Chinese shores. Monitoring equipment installed on those islands can detect the first fleet departing from China's coasts.

That is supposed to give the Taiwanese forces enough time to coordinate a multi-layered defence such as Sea mines, combined with fast-attack craft and missile assault boats, along with land-based munitions positioned on shores and nearby islands, would confront the PLA in its most vulnerable state, before it gets a chance to land and start an operation.

Taiwan is also preparing for guerrilla warfare in case the PLA succeeds in getting boots on the ground. Man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS) and mobile anti-armor weapons, such as high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), can be used in urban fights, while buildings can be turned into barracks.

But it’s not been smooth sailing.

While President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan has expressed support for the so-called “asymmetric” strategy and has tried to increase the defence budget and buy many of the small, mobile weapons that US officials have recommended, she has encountered resistance at times from some Taiwanese military officials.

They contend that that some conventional weapons systems are still necessary and that it would be too risky for Taiwan to abandon those without an explicit security guarantee from the United States.

A source close to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence told “If we only train how to flee and hide, that will shake morale. If we give up on developing our air force, the PLA will win before the war has even started.”

Can a Chinese invasion succeed?

Maybe, but there are risks

Any near-term PLA invasion would remain a high-risk option. Such an operation would rely on the success of the PLA’s more developed cyberattack, missile strike, and blockade capabilities to sufficiently degrade, isolate, or defeat Taiwan’s defending forces as well as its anti-access and area denial capabilities to prevent decisive US intervention.

History’s Lessons: How & Why Russians & Americans were defeated in Afghanistan (underdeveloped, tribal-based country)?

During the 10 years of war by Soviet Union & 20 years of war on terror by USA, these Super Powers failed to defeat the Mujahedin led sophisticated insurgency.

Conclusions: Taiwan’s best chance for survival against Chinese invasion is in a “porcupine strategy” of asymmetric defense. It would bristle with anti-ship missiles, anti-tank munitions, and air-defense weapons enabling a prolonged campaign of survival and attrition. These capabilities would seriously degrade, if not entirely defeat, a Chinese invasion, buying Americans time to intervene before Chinese completes and consolidates its conquest.

CA Harshad Shah, Mumbai, India

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