top of page
  • mfredenburgsites

Attack Subs are Best Deterrent to Chinese invasion of Taiwan

Updated: Jan 5, 2023



Speaker Pelosi's trip to Taiwan has generated a ton of bellicose behavior and words. And this has naturally generated a lot of discussion around how U.S forces would fare against a Chinese Navy far more powerful than the one the U.S.confronted during the 1995/1996 incidents that saw the U.S. deploy U.S. carriers operating in close vicinity to Taiwan.

Of course the meta question is does the U.S. have the will to use its military to stop China from invading Taiwan - a genuine democracy of over 27M people and one our major trading partners. Sadly, the answer to that question is very much up in the air.

But assuming for the moment that U.S. keeps its commitments, what would it take to deter Chinese aggression?

While there is a lot of talk regarding employing U.S. Carrier forces to defend Taiwan, it is far more likely that it is our attack subs (sea denial) that will play the decisive role in deterring or stopping a seaborne invasion of Taiwan by China.

Why not our carriers? Putting our carriers in range to use their fighters effectively means putting them in range of China's land-based aircraft, and of course their missiles. Unlike our Middle Eastern opponents of the past 30 years, or even North Korea, China has the ability to attack our carriers with aircraft launched missiles, land-based launched missile, submarine launched missiles, and perhaps most devastatingly, submarine launched torpedoes. Consequently, bringing carriers into the constrained South China sea and close enough to Taiwan to be of any use, would be very risky and thus seems unlikely. On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that the anti-submarine warfare capabilities of any nation are insufficient to guarantee protection from submarine attacks. In joint exercises conducted by Sweden and the United States a Sweden, a single 1600 ton Gotland Class diesel electric sub (air independent propulsion) made multiple undetected attack runs on USS Ronald Reagan. It was successful in spite of every possible carrier escort vessel, plane and helicopter working to prevent its attacks.

The Gotland class submarine was able to replicate this feat over and over during a two year period of exercises. Indeed, some reports had U.S. ASW forces becoming demoralized over their inability to defend against one lone submarine that they knew was going to attack.

While these exercises occurred in 2005-2007, there has been no silver bullet development in ASW that says such an outcome is not possible today.

Then we have the October 2006 incident that saw a ChiCom Song-Class diesel electric sub surfacing within the middle of a the Kitty Hawk's Carrier battle group.

The carrier was surrounded by a dozen ships with further protection being provided by a submarine and anti-submarine helicopters. Yet, the Chinese sub managed to to penetrate the defensive screen unnoticed.

Also worth noting is that the British Navy, long associated with its expertise and focus on submarine warfare, was driven crazy by a single out-of-date/damaged diesel electric submarine . The submarine, the 1200 Ton San Luis, a German Type 209 diesel submarine, was able to harass a British fleet that specialized in ASW for the entire Falklands war. And despite having over 200 ASW munitions launched at it, it returned unscathed from the war. It even successfully ambushed British ASW frigates, but did not get the kills due to defective torpedoes.

"If torpedoes had performed properly in the submarine San Luis—here, with other ships of the Argentine Navy in 1982—the Falklands Conflict might have ended very differently. "- Captain Charles H. Wilbur, U.S. Navy (Retired), Proceeding 1996

For even more on how one very old submarine had some of the the best ASW ships frantically speeding and dodging in fear of its torpedoes read this piece in Proceedings.

This National Interest article highlights a number of other incidents in which submarines were able to defeat the best ASW the world has to offer.

So any idea that an Aircraft Carrier can sit safely behind its screen of its ships, planes and helicopters like they are some kind of force field is wishful thinking. The best defense for a Carrier and its escorts is its mobility. A Carrier Group operating in the confines of the South China Sea would be at much greater risk to attack by Chicom submarines and other forces. The good news is that Chinese ASW capabilities are likely inferior to those of the U.S. Navy, so our submarines deployed in opposition to any amphibious assault force launched by China against Taiwan would be devastating.

In other words, if the Chicom Leadership were convinced we were willing to loose Virginia, Seawolf and Los Angeles class subs on any amphibious invasion operation targeting Taiwan they would not likely attempt it. Of course that would not prevent the Chicoms from attacking Taiwan with missiles and their aircraft, but trying to drop in enough troops by air to invade would be well nigh impossible.

This does not mean that our subs would be immune to counterattack by Chiom forces, including their own subs, but that it seems that the U.S. submarine force would come out ahead in any exchange of losses.

OF COURSE THE ABOVE ASSUMES THE UNITED STATES WOULD BE WILLING TO SINK CHINESE SHIPS. So the question of defending China remains more one of will, than of capability.

P.S. No way does China want to take on our carriers with their carriers in open seas away from the cover of their mainland.

63 views0 comments


bottom of page