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NEWPORT, R.I. -- Naval War College (NWC) professors James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara of the Strategy and Policy Department published an Occasional Paper through the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation entitled “Defending the Strait: Taiwan’s Naval Strategy in the 21st Century.” The report expands on two Jamestown China Briefs published in 2010, arguing that Taiwan should reorient its naval strategy from “sea control” to “sea denial.” The strategic vision set forth by the Taiwan Navy aims at sea control in the waters adjoining Taiwan. Holmes and YoshihJames Holmes Toshi Yoshiharaara envision a new-look fleet that would deemphasize major warships like guided-missile destroyers in favor of swarms of stealthy, missile-armed small craft operating independently in the waters surrounding the island.

The NWC professors maintain that the Taiwan Navy can no longer keep up with a Chinese military that commands vast material preponderance, both quantitative and, increasingly, qualitative. They argue that it should no longer try. Naval supremacy eludes Taipei’s grasp following years of robust Chinese economic growth that have enabled Beijing to boost military budgets by double digits every year. In short, the balance of maritime power favors Beijing and will continue to do so. But while sea control is now out of reach for Taiwan, sea denial is not. This naval strategy of the weaker contender promises to let the island ride out a Chinese onslaught for long enough to matter. Prosecuting a sea-denial strategy demands that the Taiwan Navy forego its desire to command the sea—breaking with longstanding traditions.

Last year’s China Briefs set off lively debate on the island, prompting Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou to order the Taiwan Navy to review its strategy and forces. President Ma has thrown his support behind sea denial. This spring, for instance, he personally attended the commissioning ceremony for new Kuang Hua VI fast patrol boats, small craft that normally do not rate presidential attention. “Defending the Strait” is part of a growing chorus of voices urging Taiwan to adopt a defensive strategy that comports with new—if uneasy—strategic realities in East Asia.

Written by Naval War College Public Affairs
Posted by Brie Lyons

NOTE: The views expressed in this publication are the authors’ own, and do
not speak for the U.S. Naval War College. Additionally, their views do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Naval War College, the Department of the Navy or Department of Defense or any other organization of the U.S. government.