If large portions of the People’s Liberation Army succeed in landing on and occupying Taiwan, what options might there be for the U.S. and its Pacific allies? Geography is the principle impediment to a successful counterattack.
South Korea operates roughly 2,600 thousand tanks and Japan maintains about one thousand tanks. According to Global Firepower, Taiwan’s military includes 1,160 tanks. However, should China land large numbers of armored vehicles, could any kind of ground response force get there in time? A quick look might suggest no.
Japan and South Korea are both hundreds of miles away. Armored forces are difficult to deploy and would likely need to be prepositioned nearby. This Taiwan’s recent acquisition of Abrams tanks. Could there be enough armored resistance to slow down a Chinese incursion long enough to enable allied forces such as Japan, South Korea, and forward-placed U.S. forces to respond? It seems unlikely, unless the United States and its allies took a controversial step to deploy a large-scale armored force prior to any invasion.
Training and readiness may also be a factor for Taiwan. Global Firepower states the island nation has as many as 1.6 million reserves. Korea is listed as operating an extremely large reserve force of 3.1 million. While likely prepared for a conflict with North Korean, these forces could certainly have an impact should Taiwan need to be liberated. How trained, equipped, and ready would these forces be?
How do U.S. numbers stack up? The United States INDO-PACIFC Command website says there are about 106,000 U.S. Army personnel in theater. The United States does operate several bases in Japan and has troops in South Korea, but would that be adequate if facing a Chinese land-army with more than two million soldiers?
Extracting an entrenched Chinese Army from Taiwan would not be a small task. A combined U.S., Taiwanese, Japanese and South Korean land force operating with air superiority might be able to prevail. The cost would likely be high, though.
Victory, and air superiority, would almost certainly rely on U.S. naval forces. INDOPACOM says the command operates two hundred ships, including five aircraft carrier strike groups and as many as 1,100 aircraft. These aircraft could ultimately be a deciding factor in stopping a Chinese amphibious assault and establishing air superiority to support a ground counterattack.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.