Before vacating his position as leader of the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson shocked the military world by testifying that China might very well take advantage of the “decade of concern” and invade Taiwan by 2027.
When Davidson gave his outgoing testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March of 2021, he said there is a real possibility that China will attack Taiwan between 2021 and 2027, because the U.S. Navy is currently waiting for new ships while many of its old ships are nearing retirement. This temporary weakness in the U.S.’ ability to react to any invasion of Taiwan has previously been called “the decade of concern,” referring to the 10 years from 2020 to 2030. After Davidson’s testimony, that timeframe has been narrowed to the six years between 2021 and 2027, and the new timeframe is being called “the Davidson window.”
Some scoffed at Davidson’s claim, saying that China has not even started to invest in the large number of troop transport ships and landing craft that would be required for a huge amphibious operation. The scoffers would claim that China’s current lack of military sealift capacity shows that Beijing is not interested in invading Taiwan before 2050, which is the date that Beijing says it wants to have a fully modernized force capable of overwhelming Taiwan. However, it recently became clear that China has actually been secretly building up its sealift capability by building large numbers of civilian roll-on roll-off ferries that can quickly be converted into military landing ship transports.
It might be that China has taken a leaf from Sun Tzu’s famous book, The Art of War, by hiding the last piece of its invasion puzzle in clear sight. One of the most famous lines in The Art of War is “Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and it confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.”
And that line from the book follows just a few lines after these tenets: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive.”
In other words, given that The Art of War is still a major influence for military thinkers in China, there is a real chance that Beijing is using its 2050 target as a smokescreen and hiding its current invasion capabilities, and that they would be looking earnestly at using the Davidson window before it closes.
Recent events also heightened the unease that Davidson felt in March 2021. First there was the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year, and then China’s leader Xi Jinping was given an unprecedented third term to show if he’ll be worth a fourth term — and the CCP will decide in November 2027 on whether to give Xi that fourth term.
In other words, Xi Jinping has until 2027 to make his dream of “reuniting” Taiwan with China come true. And by the way his predecessor Hu Jintao was unceremoniously dragged off stage in front of the world’s media, Xi does seem to have been given all the power he needs to prepare the Chinese military for war.
So, the year 2027 does seem to be pretty darn menacing right now, and even the Biden administration has accepted the Davidson window as a real period of risk. Just last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at the Hoover Institution with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, saying that China has changed its approach toward Taiwan in recent years. “A fundamental decision [has been made by China] that the status quo was no longer acceptable, and that Beijing was determined to pursue reunification [with Taiwan] on a much faster timeline.”
However, the Biden administration neglected in 2021 to act to close the Davidson window. The obvious solution to surviving the window would be to deter Chinese aggression by increasing spending on combat warships. This spending is needed to urgently speed up the delivery of new warships and upgrading aging ships. However, Biden’s 2021 budget cut 17 bombers from the Air Force and 15 Navy battleforce ships, including seven Ticonderoga class cruisers, while adding no replacement bombers and adding only eight new ships, with half of those being support ships, not fighting ships.
The 2022 defense budget seems to be moving in the right direction, but the problem with the Davidson window is that it exists because ship-building is a very slow process and thus it will take years to close the window. So, the Biden White House lost a golden opportunity to shorten the window last year.
Apart from the need to urgently increase the number of modern warships and warplanes in the U.S. arsenal, the other obvious way to decrease the risk of China capitalizing on the Davidson window is to make sure Taiwan is brimming with asymmetric-warfare weapons. Alas, this is another crisis that the Biden administration has failed to face head on. Taiwan is currently experiencing a bottleneck in the delivery of critical weapon systems that it ordered from the U.S. years ago. On top of that, Taiwan’s military seems to be intentionally ignoring the need to order large numbers of smaller asymmetric-warfare weapons that can survive a massive Chinese ballistic missile barrage in order to deal a powerful blow to invading forces.
The Biden administration needs to declare an emergency and act accordingly to make sure that China is deterred from capitalizing on the Davidson window. Urgent steps need to be taken to break the arms-delivery bottleneck and make sure Taiwan orders and gets enough asymmetric weapons as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it does not seem that the White House is prioritizing Taiwan’s armament at the moment, and we can only hope that this situation changes as soon as possible.
Image: U.S. Department of Defense