Every four years, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) is required by law to conduct a defense review to provide overarching guidance for the Republic of China’s Armed Forces and to set priorities for acquisition, research & development, and force posturing. In 2021, the Tsai Ing-wen administration released its second Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Given the current state of U.S.-China relations, increasing bipartisan support for Taiwan in Washington and the growing assertiveness of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) against Taiwan since President Tsai took office in 2016, the 2021 QDR is perhaps the most important Taiwanese defense document produced since the end of the Cold War. In the first few months of 2021, U.S. President Joseph Biden and administration officials expressed strong support for Taiwan, concern for Chinese aggression, and willingness to increase partnership with regional allies over security issues in the Taiwan Strait. Certainly, the chances of greater and consistent U.S.-Taiwan defense cooperation have not been higher in the 21st century.
However, words must be backed up by actions, and doctrinal planning comes before action. Militarily, the most important way for two countries to work more closely is for some alignment in defense posture and hardware compatibility. If one country has completely different defense priorities and is planning for a different sort of conflict than another country, then cross-defense collaboration and integration would be more difficult to achieve. Such priorities are expressed in key defense-planning documents, such as the QDR for Taiwan. The United States has a plethora of defense-planning documents across the armed services and even within geographic regions. Regardless of the number of documents, the U.S. Department of Defense is planning for a contingency against a near-peer or peer-level adversary, specifically against the Russian Federation or People’s Republic of China. The U.S. armed forces are changing their emphasis from countering violence extremism in the Middle East to countering revisionist powers and their tailored anti-access capabilities that seek to deny U.S. power projection forces.
Given the threat that Taiwan faces against China principally preparing to repel and stop an attempted invasion—the doctrinal changes announced by the U.S. Army and Marines in 2020 and 2021 are useful to compare against the QDR. The type of defense that Taiwan is preparing for matches the existing remit and portfolios of the U.S. Army and Marines: stopping an amphibious assault and potentially a land war. In the event of a PLA invasion of Taiwan and American involvement in the defense of Taiwan, the U.S. Army and Marines would play a key role in such a conflict.
This article seeks to analyze the procurement and posture priorities of the 2021 QDR, Marines’ Force Design 2030, and Army Multi-Domain Transformation1 and what their changes mean for a contingency against China. All three documents emphasize the need for larger numbers of small, fast, and cheap weapons and hardware. They accept Chinese military strength and are seeking to adapt to the circumstances, which means an emphasis on agility and the use of missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Gone are the days of large contingents since they’d make for easy targets as the Chinese military works to ensure the success of its anti-access aerial denial strategy. Is Taiwan—and are the U.S. Army and Marines—preparing for the same type of war that many predict is inevitable?