Here
and
Now

opinions

The logistics of war: How Washington is preparing for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan

18 Comments
By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) steams during a three-carrier strike force photo exercise in the Western Pacific
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) steams during a three-carrier strike force photo exercise in the western Pacific. Photo: Reuters/U.S. Navy Handout

When U.S. and Australian troops practiced amphibious landings, ground combat and air operations last summer, they drew headlines about the allies deepening defense cooperation to counter China's growing military ambitions.

But for U.S. war planners preparing for a potential conflict over Taiwan, the high-profile Talisman Sabre exercises had a far more discreet value: They helped create new stockpiles of military equipment that were left behind in Australia after the drills ended in August, U.S. officials told Reuters.

The United States and its allies are increasingly worried that in the coming years Chinese President Xi Jinping could order his military to seize Taiwan, the democratically governed island China considers its own territory. So, the U.S. military is taking a hard look at its own military readiness and trying to play catch-up in a critical area: its logistics network.

The equipment from Talisman Sabre included roughly 330 vehicles and trailers and 130 containers in warehouses in Bandiana, in southeastern Australia, the Army says.

The amount of equipment, which the United States military has not previously acknowledged, is enough to supply about three logistics companies, with as many as 500 or more soldiers, focused on ensuring supplies reach warfighters.

It's the kind of materiel that's needed for a future drill, a natural disaster, or in a war.

"We're looking to do this more and more," Army General Charles Flynn, the top Army commander in the Pacific, told Reuters in an interview.

"There's a number of other countries in the region where we already have agreements to do that," he added, without naming specific countries.

Reuters interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials found that American military logistics in the Pacific is one of the greatest U.S. vulnerabilities in any potential conflict over Taiwan.

U.S. war games have concluded that China would likely try to bomb jet fuel supplies or refueling ships, crippling U.S. air and sea power without having to battle heavily armed fighter jets or sink America's fleet of surface warships, according to current and former officials and experts.

In response, the United States is trying to spread its military logistics hubs across the region - including warehouses in Australia, officials told Reuters.

Asked about Reuters' conclusions, the Pentagon said that the Department of Defense is working with allies to make U.S. forces more mobile and distributed.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not directly address the Reuters report, but a spokesperson said the United States should "stop enhancing military contact with the Taiwan region" and "stop creating factors that could heighten tensions in the Taiwan Strait."

The Australian embassy in Washington referred questions to the Ministry of Defense, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Critics say Washington's network is still too concentrated and that the government hasn't put enough money or urgency toward the effort.

"When you really dig down a couple of layers, the intel community is blinking red as far as for the next five years. And yet some of these timelines (to address the risks) are 10, 15, 20 years long," said Congressman Mike Waltz, a Republican who leads the House subcommittee overseeing military logistics and readiness. "There's a mismatch there."

RISKS FOR THE U.S.

The U.S. military's logistics arm, U.S. Transportation Command (TransCom), has had a major success: funneling more than 660 million pounds of equipment and over 2 million rounds of artillery to the Ukrainian military in its war with Russia.

Supporting Taiwan, roughly 100 miles from the coast of China, would be orders of magnitude harder, U.S. officials and experts acknowledge.

The U.S. has not formally said it would intervene if China were to attack Taiwan but President Joe Biden has repeatedly suggested he would deploy U.S. troops to defend the island.

Xi has ordered his military to be ready to take Taiwan by 2027, U.S. officials say. But many analysts see that as an attempt to galvanize his military rather than a timeline for invasion.

A senior U.S. military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said supplies of ammunition are at the top of the list of priorities in the Indo-Pacific, followed by fuel, food and spare parts for equipment.     "If we run out of the things to shoot ... that's going to be an immediate problem," the official said, adding planning for a Taiwan contingency was already well underway.

U.S. officials warn that in a major conflict Navy ships could quickly run out of missile defenses.

In a war game run for Congress in April, China prepared for an amphibious assault on Taiwan with massive air and missile strikes against U.S. bases in the region. That included the U.S. naval base on the Japanese island of Okinawa and the Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo.

The potential impact of attacks on U.S. logistics hubs, refueling ships and aerial refueling tankers, was a "wake up call" for many lawmakers, said Becca Wasser at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think tank, which ran the war game.

"China is going to purposely go after some of the logistics nodes to make it difficult for the United States to sustain operations in the Indo-Pacific," Wasser said.

To address such vulnerabilities, the U.S. military is looking to places like Australia as more secure locations to stockpile equipment, even as it expands cooperation with the Philippines, Japan and other partners in the Pacific.

The Biden administration announced in July the United States would also create an interim logistics center in Bandiana, Australia, with the aim of eventually creating an "enduring logistics support area" in Queensland.

According to an internal U.S. military document seen by Reuters, the facilities in Bandiana could hold more than 300 vehicles and had 800 pallet positions.

In July, the U.S. Air Force carried out Mobility Guardian 23, an exercise in the Indo-Pacific with Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom that included practicing air refueling and medical evacuations.

The military used the opportunity to leave behind equipment, including in Guam. That gear helped forces there deal with fallout from the recent Typhoon Mawar but would also be useful in any future conflict, said Air Force Major General Darren Cole, the director of operations at Air Mobility Command.

Cole noted his command was responsible not just for disaster relief but contingencies "all the way up to full combat operations, full scale major war."

FROM 'JUST IN TIME' TO 'JUST IN CASE'

There has been a shift in the United States military's thinking. For decades, the United States has not had to worry about a foreign power targeting its logistics bases. That allowed planners to focus on efficiency, adopting the "just-in-time" logistics model common among private-sector manufacturers.

That approach led to the cost-saving decision to create mega-bases, like Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Ramstein was safe from Taliban and Islamic State attacks.

But a conflict with China could make mega bases, which include Camp Humphreys near Seoul, prime targets. This risk is prompting the switch to a more costly approach to logistics that includes dispersing U.S. stockpiles and pre-positioning supplies around the region.

"Instead of planning for efficiency, you probably (need) to plan for effectiveness, and move from 'Just in time' to 'Just in case,'" said Rear Admiral Dion English, one of the Pentagon's top logistics officers.

The U.S. did this in Europe after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, pre-positioning stocks and investing in bases and airfields that deploying U.S. troops could use if needed. In the five years leading up to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon requested $11.65 billion in funding from Congress to preposition equipment in Europe.

By contrast, a Reuters analysis of the Pentagon's budget request found that the military currently plans to only ask for $2.5 billion from fiscal year 2023 to 2027 to preposition equipment and fuel and improve logistics in Asia. The Pentagon has an annual budget of about $842 billion currently.

Another costly problem is the aging fleet of U.S. transport ships. The average age of the ships designed to carry heavy cargo, like tanks, into a conflict zone is 44 years with some older than 50 years.

One blistering analysis by CNAS concluded: "The Department of Defense has systematically underinvested in logistics in terms of money, mental energy, physical assets, and personnel."

Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon and Congress needed far more focus on Pacific bases and logistics.

"Our ability to deter conflict in the Western Pacific over the next five years is not close to where it needs to be," he told Reuters.

© Thomson Reuters 2024.

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

18 Comments
Login to comment

There is a calculus to consider. Does the attacking leader determine the cost worth the prize? One of the many bad things about dictatorships is that they are only minimally responsible to the people. As we have seen with Putin, losing ten to one on the battlefield does not matter, so long as he controls the state media, and protesting his incompetence and immorality is a crime against the state.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I hear tell there a couple thousand missiles that might or might not work in an anti-ship role. Fingers crossed and lets hope that more testing is being done and factories are running overtime.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The headline should read "The logistics of war: How Washington is trying to provoke a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

The headline should read "The logistics of war: How Washington is trying to provoke a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

No, they got the headline spot on! Your version is the Chinese pushed version, and astute readers can see through it easily. China is the one causing an arms buildup all through the region, including in Taiwan.

Blaming the US for Chinese belligerence is a bridge too far. Nobody but Russians, Iranian hardliners and North Koreans are buying into it.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

China is not planning to invade Taiwan. The span of sea between the two is just too far for invasion. The people in the Pentagon know this, the politicians know this. They are lying to you, and you are lapping it up like a hungry puppy.

However, missiles from the mainland and air are a slim possibility if the US and its vassals continue to interfere in Chinese affairs.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Mr KiplingToday 03:57 pm JST

China is not planning to invade Taiwan

A common refrain amongst those who wish countries not to be prepared for a Chinese blockade of Taiwan.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

TheRegulatorToday 12:14 pm JST

The headline should read "The logistics of war: How Washington is trying to provoke a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

As soon as you find a shred of evidence of that, you are welcome to write your own article.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

The JASSM-ER is the missile that should hopefully give the PLN a very bad day.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

US is Not Preparing, rather they're rapidly running out of whole variety of missiles, especially ground based air defense in nature. Turns out US Navy, Israel and Ukraine have Very High and $Expensive Burn-Rate!

US growing LESS prepared DAILY to defend Taiwan.

Meanwhile China's rapidly building its missile stockpiles that are most needed to deal with their Taiwan 'problem'.

Would you prefer some fantasy happy spin instead?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Keep in mind, the US base in Jordan recently hit with an Iranian drone, turns out they lacked air defense systems, US facing shortages on its bases in Mid-East, they gambled on Jordon being safer than Iraq, Syria, etc.

Think US ready for Taiwan? Ukraine's collapsing, Mid East up flames, Red Sea battle zone, commercial ships hit frequently, press being 'pressed' to stay quiet etc.

Meanwhile Biden's politically collapsing and confused. Seems's Xi's Taiwan light's about to turn green...

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

"That approach led to the cost-saving decision to create mega-bases, like Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Ramstein was safe from Taliban and Islamic State attacks."

It is questionable whether this assumption will still make sense in the future. On the one hand, Red China and Russia will act in concert and also orchestrate terrorists of all kinds, but on the other hand, everyone should be aware of the conditions in Germany, a lack of defense capability due to the ruined Bundeswehr and catastrophic internal security.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The closest route to Taiwan is 130 km.

The JASSM-ER is the missile that should hopefully give the PLN a very bad day.

That and other munitions would indeed have a jolly good time. Which is why there will be no invasion.

Taiwan knows this, the US knows, any logical thinker should be able to take those blinkers off and see too. We are being lied to.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

US is Not Preparing, rather they're rapidly running out of whole variety of missiles, especially ground based air defense in nature. Turns out US Navy, Israel and Ukraine have Very High and $Expensive Burn-Rate!

Sigh. BS springs eternal. The weapons the US is sending Ukraine in large quantities are most often older weapons that are being removed from the inventory as they are replaced by newer iterations. Examples are HARM, which is mostly replaced by AARGM in the US Navy and by something being called Stand In Weapon and AARGM_ER in the USAF. While the US has sent a limited number of Patriot batteries to Ukraine they are also sending them lots of the older but still effective Hawk systems that Patriot replaced. These are systems that are still effective against what the Russians have but are not useful against the better Chinese systems. The US isn't shipping Ukraine or Israel weapons like AARGM, AGM-86ALCM, JASSM/JASSM-ER, LRASM or Tomahawk, weapons that are critical for fighting the Chinese. Their EMP and microwave weapons are not being sent to Ukraine or Israel. They are not shipping AMRAAMs either. Stinger is also on its way out and the production line was supposed to shut down last year so it could be re-tooled for its replacement. Instead Stinger production has been extended and a new line will have to be built for its replacement. RTX and Lockheed-Martin both expanded their weapons production facilities last year and the Army is busy adding two more production lines for 155mm artillery rounds and a second factory to manufacture gun barrels for howitzers. All of this information is in the public realm if you read the defense press.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Keep in mind, the US base in Jordan recently hit with an Iranian drone, turns out they lacked air defense systems, US facing shortages on its bases in Mid-East, they gambled on Jordon being safer than Iraq, Syria, etc.

More BS. The base was not short of air defenses. They simply mistook the Iranian drone for a US drone that was expected back at the same time. Their air defenses were never employed. It was an operational failure, not a lack of adequate defense equipment.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The JASSM-ER is the missile that should hopefully give the PLN a very bad day.

JASSM, JASSM-ER and JASSM-XR are all strictly land attack weapons. The have no anti-ship or moving target capability. LRASM however does. The Navy also has a substantial stockpile of Harpoon missiles along with the Kongsberg/Raytheon JSM and soon Maritime Strike Tomahawk for the PLAN to contend with ..... what's left of the PLAN after the submarines are done shooting.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I forgot to mention the US Army has fielded trailer mounted Tomahawks and SM-6 missiles in the Pacific and the US Marines have truck mounted Tomahawks and JSMs. Both services plan to use these against both land and maritime targets from bases probably in the First Island Chain to prevent the PLAN from using the straits between those islands. This equipment is in the field now.

And instead of Aegis Ashore for Guam and Hawaii, the Army and Missile Defense Agency have are moving the AN/TPY-6 radars from a big fixed building to trailers that can be moved around. With SM-6 already trailer mounted there is your high end air defense system for Guam and presumably any other place the US intends to defend. I have not seen anything in open sources but it would seem straightforward to also put SM-3 on trailers for ballistic missile defense but I think the Army is relying on THAAD, though it is shorter ranged and has no capability against ICBMs.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The fanboi focus on big buck missiles ignores what is probably the most effective, inexpensive and numerous weapon the US and Taiwanese can employ to stop a Chinese invasion. It's called the Quick Strike Mine. What's that? It is a general purpose iron bomb, typically either a 500 or 2000 pounder, where the normal fuse is replaced with either a magnetic sensor or seismic sensor. These are dropped from any airplane that can carry an aerial bomb, any fighter, attack aircraft, bomber, even ASW patrol planes like the P-3, P-8 or Kawasaki P-1. Quick Strike Mines are what the US dropped in Haiphong Harbor near the end of the Vietnam War.

Iron bombs are cheap and abundant. The US has hundreds of thousands of them. They cost less than a used car.

Quick Strike II is an iron bomb with the fins, which are removable for storage and assembled on the bomb before it is hung in an aircraft, with a JDAM guidance kit. Now you can lay a mine field with great precision from high altitude instead of having to go down to a couple of hundred feet over the water. JDAM kits are also cheap and abundant. With aerial mining you can lay a big minefield quickly. With JDAM kits you can place the mines precisely for best effects.

Quick Strike ER is a 500 pound Quick Strike II with a folding wing kit. This can glide 60-80 km depending on the altitude of the launch aircraft. Now you can lay a minefield with precision from stand off distances. A half dozen B-2s or B-52s could place close to 1,000 Quick Strike ER mines in the Taiwan Strait from east of Taiwan, relatively safe from Chinese air defenses, and this would immediately stop an invasion force or if they don't stop cause it immense damage. It would certainly buy the allies time to reinforce Taiwan.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Desert TortoiseToday 02:29 am JST

The fanboi focus on big buck missiles ignores what is probably the most effective, inexpensive and numerous weapon the US and Taiwanese can employ to stop a Chinese invasion.

It's not just being a fanboi. China has some serious anti-ship capability. The US needs to be able to wreck a blockading fleet without sending its own ships into range of the mainland. Or perhaps even politically what would be considered close to the mainland. If China sinks a carrier next to Hawaii, that is completely different politically than sinking one next to Taiwan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites