IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


6th August, 2022 International Relations

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Context: China launched aggressive and unprecedented military exercises near Taiwan in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island that Beijing claims as part of its territory. As the long-range, live-fire drills began with China’s Eastern Theatre Command firing several ballistic missiles, Taiwan said that it was “preparing for war without seeking war”.


The “porcupine doctrine”:

  • The “porcupine doctrine”, which was proposed in 2008 by US Naval War College research professor William S Murray, is a strategy of asymmetric warfare focused on fortifying a weak state’s defences to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses rather than taking on its strengths.
  • It is about building defences that would ensure that Taiwan “could be attacked and damaged but not defeated, at least without unacceptably high costs and risks”,Murray wrote in the Naval War College Review.
  • There are three defensive layers in the porcupine approach.
  1. The outer layer is about intelligence and reconnaissance to ensure defence forces are fully prepared.
  2. Behind this come plans for guerrilla warfare at sea with aerial support from sophisticated aircraft provided by the US.
  3. The innermost layer relies on the geography and demography of the island.
  4. The ultimate objective of this doctrine is that of surviving and assimilating an aerial offensive well enough to organise a wall of fire that will prevent the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from successfully invading.
  • While the outer surveillance layer would work to prevent a surprise attack, the second one would make it difficult for China to land its troops on the island in the face of a guerrilla campaign at sea using “agile, missile-armed small ships, supported by helicopters and missile launchers.
  • Even once Chinese boots were on Taiwanese ground, the island’s mountainous topography and urbanised environment would give defenders an advantage when it comes to hampering the progress of an invasion.

Asymmetric systems of defence:

  • In its 2021 Quadrennial Defence Review, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence defined asymmetric systemsas ones that are “small, numerous, smart, stealthy, mobile and hard to be detected and countered”, and “associated with innovative tactics and employments”.
  • According to Taiwan’s former Chief of the General Staff Admiral Lee Hsi-ming, these systems are “a large number of small things”.
  • Among Taiwan’s current and yet-to-be-delivered military systems, “the minelayer ship, the Harpoon coastal defence cruise missile, the Stinger man-portable air defence missile, and possibly the missile corvettes can be considered ‘small things’ that can be fielded in large numbers”.
  • These asymmetric capabilities will be aimed at striking the “operational centre of gravity and key nodes of the enemy”.
  • Taiwan underlined its shift to an asymmetric approach by adopting the Overall Defence Concept (ODC) in 2018. The ODC was developed and introduced during the tenure of Admiral Lee, who served from 2017 to 2019.
  • The ODC is Taiwan’s current strategy for dealing with a potential Chinese invasion in a resource-constrained environment” while using its “natural advantages, civilian infrastructure and asymmetric warfare capabilities”.
  • These asymmetric systems must be cost-effective, easy to maintain, and numerous to disperse at strategic points.
  • Missile strikes, cyberattacks, air and naval blockade aside, undertaking a full-scale invasion across the Taiwan Strait, with attendant risks of anti-ship and anti-air attacks, could present challenges for China