5 Deadliest Weapons China Can Use Against Taiwan in a War

March 29, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Chinese MilitaryTaiwanChinaCyberattacksJ-16DDF-16S-400Military

5 Deadliest Weapons China Can Use Against Taiwan in a War

The Chinese weapons systems and capabilities listed in this essay are but a snapshot of the terror and destructive power that China will bring in any conflict with Taiwan.


There is some debate about how the People’s Republic of China will choose to attack Taiwan. Many assume China will attempt a bolt-from-the-blue strike bringing combined arms methodically across the Taiwan Strait, conducting a 100-hour air war against Taiwan, and then sending in ground forces in the largest amphibious assault since the D-Day landings in World War II.

Still others, mostly U.S. Navy analysts, think that Beijing will attempt a piecemeal, phased encapsulation of Taiwan followed by a long-term blockade to effectively starve and isolate the island democracy into submission. 


Regardless, some Chinese weapons platforms are deadlier than others. These are the five deadliest weapons Beijing could ever deploy in a possible conflict with Taiwan.


The first and most obvious way that China’s military can eviscerate Taiwan’s high-tech society is by conducting sweeping and devastating offensive cyber operations (OCO) against critical infrastructure on the island. Taiwan is subjected to “millions of cyberattacks” every year, with most of those attacks coming from the mainland. 

Not only is critical infrastructure targeted, but so too are essential command-and-control nodes for the Taiwanese military. Chinese cyber forces will attempt to establish information dominance over Taiwan, and they will corrupt the hearts and minds of the besieged Taiwanese with influence operations via cyberattacks. 

That’s to say nothing of widespread distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

If Chinese hackers, who are skilled in the dark art of cyberwarfare, can penetrate enough critical systems in Taiwan, they could shut the island down—at least for a time—sowing chaos among the defenders and creating a strategic window of opportunity for China’s invasion forces to exploit.

Roll-On-Roll-Off (Ro-Ro) Ferries

It might seem odd to some readers who are military aficionados to include a civilian platform used for transporting cars and people from one city to another across rivers and bays, such as the Roll-On-Roll-Off (Ro-Ro) ferries, but China’s innovative dual-use of these systems gives them a strategic advantage over Taiwan. Namely, if (more like when), Beijing opts to invade its democratic neighbor just across the Taiwan Strait, it will need to transport a force that could number in the millions of troops and thousands of pieces of military equipment.

Currently, China does not have sufficient traditional amphibious assault craft to conduct the kind of landing that would be required to take the island. It does, however, possess the world’s largest fleet of civilian Ro-Ro ferries.

Under the current makeup of China’s amphibious force, Beijing is still a few years away from having the capability to deploy large numbers of forces onto the island. Throw in the massive Ro-Ro fleet (each Ro-Ro has been upgraded to military specifications), and China can go-for-broke in the next few months. This is an unconventional threat, but it gives China’s heavy-lift capacity significant strategic heft in the near term. 

Present conditions in Taiwan will make it difficult for Taiwan’s military to repel a sudden Chinese invasion without direct U.S. military intervention (which likely won’t be coming, due to political and economic constraints in the United States).

The J-16D: China’s EW Dominance Fighter

Based on the highly successful Russian Su-27 Flanker (NATO’s designation for the Su-27), the J-16D augments that already impressive Russian warplane with two distinctive electromagnetic (EM) warfare jamming pods attached at the tips of both wings. In any war scenario over Taiwan, EM spectrum denial will be a key objective for both the aggressor and defender. What makes the J-16D so dangerous is that it can overfly Taiwan and, with those jamming pods, disrupt tracking and air defense systems, creating a hole through which other Chinese aircraft can punch through and destroy key targets on the ground in Taiwan. 

Two years ago, one of the largest Chinese incursions of Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) occurred. At that time, fifty-two Chinese warplanes penetrated Taiwan’s airspace over two days. On one of those two days, a majority of the thirty-nine planes that crossed Taiwanese airspace were J-16D warplanes. The following day, another thirteen Chinese birds entered Taiwanese airspace. Two of those thirteen planes belonged to the J-16D model. It was at this time that Taiwan’s defenders observed the EM warfare pods attached to the wings of those planes. These were the pods that caused a high degree of dyspepsia among the Taiwanese military’s leadership. 

Clearly, China is planning to deploy a wide breadth of EM spectrum denial attacks as it rolls on Taiwan. Given Taiwan’s high-technology military and its overall modern society, this is a nightmare in the making both for the defense of the island (since so many Taiwanese systems are electronic) and for the survival of Taiwan’s civil society.

The DF-16 Missile

China has spent decades building up its ballistic missile forces. China, in fact, is one of the world’s largest ballistic missile bases. With assets forward-deployed and with Taiwan being so geographically close to China, a variety of long-range missiles fired from China can wreak havoc on the embattled island democracy. Notably, the DF-16. A high-powered missile that China’s Rocket and Artillery Forces possess in abundance (thanks to the mass production capabilities the West gave to China over the last 50 years), this system “has a range of 1,000 km (621 miles) and can carry a 1500 kg warhead, with a circular error probability of 10 meters.” This weapon also possesses the all-important “terminal maneuver capabilities, making it difficult for [anti-ballistic missile] to intercept.”

This is but one of several missile systems—including traditional cruise missiles—that China can saturate Taiwan with for a seemingly endless time until its air defense systems break.

The S-400

Another Russian-built system that the Chinese military has embraced with great alacrity has been the S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. Some experts believe the S-400 may be the greatest SAM system ever created. Whatever its real place in the pantheon of global SAMs, it is a highly capable system that can severely threaten Taiwan. This is especially so, if China opts for a gradual, protracted blockade of the island rather than a total blitz. These systems, according to Robert Farley, “deeply complicate[s] Taiwan military use of the air, and has the potential to completely disrupt any commercial use of Taiwanese airspace.”

For an island-nation, such as Taiwan, an effective blockade conducted by China’s navy coupled with a successful deployment of S-400 batteries against Taiwanese air usage would effectively cripple the island. It would, over time, lead to the collapse of the tiny island democracy. Especially if the U.S. military and its allies were blinkered by internal squabbling, domestic economic concerns, and fears that their legacy systems—such as the powerful aircraft carrier—would be sunk or irreparably damaged by Chinese anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems in the Indo-Pacific.

The Bottom Line

War is coming to Taiwan. China has a vested ideological and strategic interest in capturing the landmass that U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur once dubbed as the “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” If it comes sooner—as early as spring or fall of this year—Taiwan is going to find itself on the losing end of a conventional war. As I have written previously, Taipei’s only hope for long-term survival is not in going plane-for-plane or missile-for-missile with China. It’s in Taiwan's ability to wage and win a long-term insurgency against Chinese occupiers. 

The Chinese weapons systems and capabilities listed in this essay are but a snapshot of the terror and destructive power that China will bring in any conflict with Taiwan.

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.