Taiwan must stop J-20s, F-35 100 miles from China makes sense

The idea of selling F-35s to Taiwan might seem like a risky chess move to the Pentagon, potentially ruffling feathers in the Chinese Communist Party’s nest. Yet, the rationale behind such a proposition is hard to dispute. 

Su-57's vertical stabilizers give it an advantage over the F-22 - F-35
Photo credit: USAF

Despite the lack of Congressional green light for the F-35 sale to Taiwan, several key U.S. allies, including Poland, Germany, Finland, and Switzerland, are swiftly integrating this jet into their military fleets. The F-35’s reputation is soaring, with its rapidly expanding international community of partners starting to view it as the go-to 5th-gen stealth fighter for the free world. Its presence in the Pacific, particularly, could serve as a formidable deterrent. 

Given the undeniable edge that 5th-generation air superiority provides, it’s logical for Taiwan to join the ranks of Singapore, Japan, Australia, and South Korea in operating F-35s, potentially tilting the balance of power against China. The appetite for acquiring the jet is certainly present in Taiwan, as evidenced by a 2018 report from The Diplomat, which quotes Taiwanese leaders expressing such interest. 

China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) has been flexing its muscles, boasting a naval force larger than the U.S. Navy for several years, and rapidly expanding its arsenal with new carriers, advanced destroyers, and submarines. This could pose an elevated threat to Taiwan, but the F-35 could be the perfect counter, particularly as China lacks any ocean-launched 5th-gen aircraft. 

Norway: We don't have enough mechanics to support the 52 F-35s
Photo by Monica White Martinsen / NRK

Despite China’s intimidating high-tech Navy, a vast arsenal of ballistic missiles, and considerable ground forces, it seems to fall short when it comes to deploying 5th-gen air power en masse, an area where the U.S. and its allies excel. 

China’s J-20, while impressive, is land-based. And while the PLAN is reportedly developing the carrier-launched J-31 stealth fighter jet, it remains to be seen how advanced this project is and whether the aircraft can be produced in numbers significant enough to make a difference.

The J-20’s Threat Looms Over Taiwan

Perched precariously just 100 miles from the Chinese coast, Taiwan finds itself within the striking reach of China’s expanding armada of J-20s. Despite this, it seems improbable that China could marshal the necessary 5th-generation air superiority to bolster an amphibious assault on Taiwan. The introduction of land or sea-launched F-35s could tip the scales in Taiwan’s favor, providing the crucial edge needed to repel a Chinese amphibious offensive. 

Thrust vectoring engine: J-20 performs strong maneuvers at low speed
Photo credit: ADN

On the flip side, it appears more plausible that U.S. and allied 5th-generation aircraft could outmaneuver and obliterate any Chinese air presence, effectively reducing any attacking Chinese amphibious force to ashes. 

One must also entertain the idea that the U.S. and its Southeast Asian allies already possess the 5th-generation air superiority required to outclass China in aerial combat. Japan’s recent mega-billion F-35 acquisition, Korea’s existing F-35 partnership, and the U.S. Navy’s unwavering commitment to maintaining a “forward presence” in the Pacific theater underscore this point. 

For several years, the Pentagon has been steadily increasing the U.S. Navy’s footprint in the Pacific, a strategic move aimed at supporting the multi-service Pacific Pivot implemented years ago. 

This development ensures a steady stream of Carrier Strike Group deployments to the Pacific theater, including war readiness drills such as “dual carrier” training operations. 

China showed a two-seater stealth J-20 in combat camouflage
Photo credit: South China Morning Post

Moreover, the existing fleet of big-deck amphibious assault ships, capable of carrying up to 13 F-35Bs, implies that 5th-generation air power can be strategically positioned in potentially game-changing numbers to secure air superiority in the event of a confrontation with China.

Halting Taiwan’s F-35 in the face of an amphibious assault

The Pentagon may be wary of deploying F-35s to Taiwan, despite their potential to be a game-changer in the region. This hesitation could stem from fears of the cutting-edge F-35 technology falling into the wrong hands. 

However, this decision may seem inconsistent, considering that the Pentagon regularly supplies Taiwan with missiles, helicopters, and even Abrams tanks. Specifically, the Abrams tanks could play a crucial role in thwarting a Chinese amphibious landing, thereby preventing the PLA from gaining a foothold on the mainland. 

Nonetheless, the F-35 is not your everyday military hardware. It’s a symbol of Western military prowess that China might perceive as a direct challenge, potentially escalating tensions in the region. 

There will now be six air-to-air missiles in the F-35 'belly'
Photo by Bartek Bera

Despite the inherent risks, deploying F-35s to Taiwan could act as a powerful deterrent. The presence of these advanced fighter jets might force Beijing to reconsider any aggressive actions toward Taiwan.

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