Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 2026 would cause thousands of casualties among Chinese, US, Taiwanese and Japanese forces and is unlikely to result in a victory for Beijing, according to the prominent independent Washington think tank that organized the war game. simulation of a potential conflict that worries military and political leaders in Asia and Washington.
A war over Taiwan could leave a victorious US military as crippled as a defeated Chinese force.
At the end of the conflict, at least two US aircraft carriers would lie at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and China’s modern fleet, which is the largest in the world, would have “collapsed”.
That’s one of the findings of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) after what it says is one of the most extensive war-gaming simulations ever conducted of a potential conflict over Taiwan, a democratically-ruled 24 million-strong country. The Chinese Communist Party considers it part of its sovereign territory, although it has never controlled it.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has refused to rule out using military force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.
CNN has seen an advance copy of the report, titled “The First Battle of the Next War,” about two dozen war scenarios CSIS is running, which says the project was necessary because previous government and private models of war were too narrow or too opaque. so that the public and policy makers can actually see how a conflict could arise across the Taiwan Strait.
“There is no unclassified war game when it comes to the US-China conflict,” said Mark Cancian, one of the project’s three leaders and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Of the unranked games, they’re usually only done once or twice.
CSIS ran this war game 24 times to answer two fundamental questions: Would the invasion succeed and at what cost?
The likely answers to those two questions are no, and overwhelmingly so, the CSIS report said.
“The United States and Japan are losing tens of ships, hundreds of aircraft, and thousands of service members. Such a loss would damage the US’s global standing for years to come,” the report said. In most cases, the US Navy lost two aircraft carriers and 10-20 large surface combatants. About 3,200 U.S. troops would be killed in three weeks of battle, nearly half of what the U.S. has lost in two decades of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“China is also suffering a lot. Its navy is destroyed, the core of its amphibious forces is broken, and tens of thousands of soldiers are prisoners of war,” it said. The report estimated that China would suffer about 10,000 troops and lose 155 combat aircraft and 138 large ships.
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The scenarios paint a bleak future for Taiwan even if the Chinese invasion fails.
“Though unbroken, Taiwan’s military is severely depleted and left to defend a battered economy on an island without electricity or basic services,” the report said. The island’s army would suffer about 3,500 casualties, the report said, and all 26 of the navy’s destroyers and frigates would be sunk.
Japan could lose more than 100 fighter jets and 26 warships, and US military bases on its territory would be attacked by China, the report said.
But CSIS said it did not want its report to imply that war over Taiwan “is imminent or even likely.”
“The Chinese leadership may adopt a strategy of diplomatic isolation, gray zone pressure or economic coercion against Taiwan,” it said.
Dan Grazier, senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), believes a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is highly unlikely. Such a military operation would immediately disrupt the imports and exports on which China’s economic survival depends, Grazier told CNN, and cutting off that trade risks the Chinese economy’s rapid collapse. Grazier said China depends on food and fuel imports to fuel its economic engine, and they have little room to maneuver.
“My assessment is that the Chinese will do everything they can to avoid a military conflict with anybody,” Grazier said. They will use industrial and economic power rather than military might to challenge the US for global dominance.
But Pentagon leaders have called China a “stretch threat” to America, and a report on China’s military power last year approved by Congress said the “PLA has increased its provocative and destabilizing actions in and around the Taiwan Strait, including more flights into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.” and conducting exercises for the possible seizure of one of Taiwan’s most remote islands.
In August, a visit to the island by then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi led to an extensive display of military power by the PLA, including sending missiles over the island and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone waters.
Since then, Beijing has stepped up its aggressive military pressure tactics on the island, sending fighter jets across the middle line of the Taiwan Strait, the body of water separating Taiwan and China, and into the island’s air defense identification zone, commonly known as the airspace buffer. as ADIZ.
And speaking about Taiwan at the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October, Chinese leader Xi Jinping drew applause when he said China would “pursue peaceful reunification,” but then issued a grim warning, saying: “We will never promise to give up the use.” force and we reserve the right to take all necessary measures.”
The Biden administration strongly supports the island under the Taiwan Relations Act, which says Washington will provide the island with the means to defend itself without committing U.S. troops to that defense.
The recently signed National Defense Authorization Act commits the US to a program to modernize Taiwan’s military and provides $10 billion.
But Biden has repeatedly said the US military would defend Taiwan if the Chinese military launched an invasion, even as the Pentagon insisted Washington’s “one China” policy would not change.
Under the One China policy, the US recognizes China’s position that Taiwan is part of China, but has never formally recognized Beijing’s claim to an independent island.
“Wars are fought even when objective analysis may indicate that the attacker may not succeed,” Cancian said.
According to the CSIS report, four constants emerged among the 24 iterations of the war game as the U.S. military sought to prevent China from eventually taking control of Taiwan:
Taiwan’s ground forces must be able to hold China’s beaches; The US must be able to use its bases in Japan for combat operations; The US must have long-range anti-ship missiles that can strike the PLA Navy from afar and “massively”; The US must fully arm Taiwan before the shooting begins and immediately initiate any conflict with its own forces.
“There is no ‘Ukrainian model’ for Taiwan,” the report said, referring to how U.S. and Western aid slowly trickled into Ukraine long after Russia invaded its neighbor, with no U.S. or NATO troops actively fighting against Russia.
“When the war starts, it’s impossible to get troops or supplies into Taiwan, so the situation is very different from Ukraine, where the United States and its allies were able to send supplies to Ukraine all the time,” Cancian said. “Whatever the Taiwanese are going to war with, they have to have it when the war starts.”
Washington will need to act quickly if it is to implement some of CSIS’s recommendations for success in the Taiwan conflict, the think tank said.
These include strengthening US bases in Japan and Guam against Chinese missile attacks; shifting its naval forces to smaller and more survivable ships; prioritizing submarines; prioritizing a sustained bomber force over a fighter force; but produces cheaper fighters; and push Taiwan toward a similar strategy, arming itself with simpler weapons platforms rather than expensive ships that are unlikely to withstand a Chinese first strike.
Such a policy would make it cheaper for the U.S. military to win, but the casualties would still be high, according to the CSIS report.
“The United States may win a pyrrhic victory, suffering more in the long run than the ‘defeated’ Chinese.”
“Victory is not everything,” the statement said.