Author Topic: What Taiwan’s Military Can Learn From the Armenia-Azerbaijan War  (Read 1755 times)


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What Taiwan’s Military Can Learn From the Armenia-Azerbaijan War
December 9, 2020
by Eric Chan

Play the Game of Drones


In operational considerations of a Taiwan conflict, there is an overwhelming focus on air and sea control. Taiwan’s Overall Defense Concept (ODC) emphasizes “decisive battle in the littoral zone and destruction of the enemy at the landing beach,” while published writings from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reciprocate with a focus on the Joint Firepower Strike use of massed missiles to destroy Taiwan airpower and paralyze defensive capability.

However, the first and most obvious lesson of the Armenia-Azerbaijan war is that through massed unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), it is possible for ground forces to cheaply replicate elements of a robust air force at a localized level.

As demonstration of this, the Azerbaijanis used loitering munitions (kamikaze drones), medium-strike UAS with guided munitions, and recon UAS in concert with artillery, to devastating effect...

...In the case of a successful landing of the PLA on Taiwan, Taiwan would be on the strategic defensive. Given expected PLA Air Force air superiority, small radar-evading UAS may mean the difference between the Taiwan army being forced to remain in an operationally defensive role or having the ability to take the offensive during a period of high vulnerability for the PLA. The PLA, like the Armenians, would be fixed in place while desperately bringing up enough logistical capability to go on the offensive – which would then be on predictable lines of advance to Taipei. This would actually be a worse scenario than having the initial invasion armada destroyed at sea, because a partial but inadequate landing force would not be able to easily retreat, would continue to be a massive resource sink for the PLA, and would essentially be a marooned hostage if the U.S. Air Force and Navy destroyed resupply capability


Unleash the Decoy Ducks

One of the greatest advantages the PLA holds over the Taiwan military is the ability to conduct precision missile saturation. The vast proliferation over the last decade of accurate land-attack cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles have made the PLA Rocket Force the “largest and most diverse missile force in the world,” now better integrated into PLA theater operations than ever.

...Herein lies another opportunity demonstrated by the Armenia-Azerbaijan War. Azerbaijan used a significant number of “unmanned” AN-2 biplanes as decoys to locate Armenian air defense and artillery...Paired with strike UAS, this proved to be an extremely cost-effective method of revealing and then targeting an enemy air defense.

Similarly, the Taiwan military could massively expand a cheap decoy fleet, with a main mission of complicating adversary targeting calculus and forcing missile expenditure. This could be a mix of UAS, biplanes, even aging fighters: Taiwan is in the process of phasing out its existing F-5s, which could instead be repurposed as missile bait. In the hands of a more technically sophisticated power than Azerbaijan, unmanned decoys could spoof attacks not just against an invasion force, but against targets in China – thus forcing ever-increasing PLA expenditures on base-hardening, missile/UAS defense, and raising the specter among Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership that the consequences of a Taiwan war cannot be isolated.


Don’t Fight Like They Expect You to Fight

Prior to the development of the ODC, Taiwan strategy focused on creating a defense-in-depth system where each service fought its own war: the ROC Marine Corps would defend the outer-lying islands until overwhelmed; the ROC Navy would fight in the Taiwan Strait until overwhelmed; the ROC Army would conduct anti-landing operations; the ROC Air Force would seek to absorb the initial PLAAF and PLARF strikes in mountain bases such as Chiashan and then come out to fight. This plan was essentially static for over 40 years, and completely predictable – particularly after many of the operational details were stolen via Chinese intelligence operations.

The issue of predictability was not limited to operations. With the United States as Taiwan’s main equipment supplier, the Taiwan military also picked up many of the habits of the U.S. military – not just the way the U.S. fights, but also the service cultures and rivalries regarding funding and acquisitions that incentivized buying high-end platforms. While there has been a veritable plethora of articles recommending the Taiwan military shift from high-end platforms to asymmetric weaponry, there has been considerably less attention on the utility of thinking differently about fighting.

For the Armenians, this proved to be fatal. While there was some understanding prior to the outbreak of war that a static “trench defense” was precisely what the Azerbaijanis were prepared to fight against, the slow rate of change meant that Armenia ended up with a flood of volunteers trained by veterans of the 1994 war with wooden guns to execute trench defense. These forces were then correspondingly demoralized by a way of war that had nothing to do with the old Soviet firepower-attrition method that gave Armenia the victory in 1994. The Armenians were fixed and then destroyed – not just in position, but mentally as well.

In Taiwan’s case, this lesson calls for a military able to consider multiple ways of war past the U.S. model, which is expeditionary, air-centric, mobile – and backed up by a massive resource/manpower base. The U.S. model addresses problems that Taiwan does not need to worry about, with a base that Taiwan does not have. Moreover, not being fixated on one operating model means having greater mental flexibility to take lessons from multiple ways of war. For instance, Finland, Sweden, and Singapore all have some similarities to Taiwan’s defense situation, both in terms of equipment and threat; another model, particularly for Taiwan reserve units, would be to implement lessons learned from the U.S. experience of 20 years of counterinsurgency — specifically from the operating methods and skillsets of the insurgents.