The US-Japan alliance could pay a high price in exchange for Taiwan’s sovereignty.

A simulation by a Japanese think tank recently concluded that a military retaliation response from the US-Japan alliance could cost hundreds of aircraft and other munitions to prevent China from taking over the Taiwan Strait.

Japanese think tank Sasakawa Peace Foundation demonstrated in a tabletop wargame that American and Japanese forces would both pay for a costly war in the event of intervention in the Taiwan crisis, with “Japan losing as many as 144 fighter jets (including F-35s and F-2s) … [while] the US could lose up to 400 [warplanes],” according to a report by Nikkei Asia.

The coalition would also suffer immense casualties, with over 10,000 US soldiers killed or wounded and as many as 2,500 Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) men. Nonetheless, China would fail to annex the island, maintaining Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Invasion of Taiwan Wargame

In Japan’s think tank scenario, Beijing was assumed to attack Taipei via an amphibious invasion in 2026. The simulation ran for four days through January 21.

The tabletop wargame pitted the Chinese against the combined forces of Japan, the US, and Taiwan, assuming the invading troops would set up an invasion command center. However, the American forces will counter this by immediately dispatching its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier battle groups and powerful stealth fighter jets to areas in and around Taiwan.

Japan will be drawn into the conflict as it permits US allies to use its military bases and commercial airports for efficient military mobilization. As a result, the invasion of Taiwan would be marked as an “existential threat,” mainly after China targeted these bases with missile attacks. Warships under Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces and the fleet of F-35s under the Air Self-Defense Force will consequently be dispatched to counter the Chinese bombardments.

Japan forces
JSDF soldiers climb aboard a C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, during the Airborne 23 exercise at Yokota Air Base, Japan, January 31, 2023. (Image source: DVIDS)

Even if China decided not to attack Japan’s bases directly, the latter would still opt to mobilize its personnel to cooperate with the United States’ intervention efforts.

China Losses In Two Weeks

As the simulation pressed on, China will eventually get overwhelmed by the US-Japan response, which is predicted to diffuse the conflict in over two weeks. The coalition will keep control over Taiwan’s airspace, which would effectively cut off the entry point for the invading state’s flow of military supplies.

The wargame predicted that China would lose around “156 battleships, including two carriers, along with 168 fighter jets and 48 military transport aircraft … [and] more than 40,000 soldiers” either killed or wounded.

On the other hand, Taiwan would bear casualties of roughly 13,000 soldiers dead and wounded, “including prisoners of war, and lost 18 warships and 200 warplanes.” The US will lose around 19 ships as Japan losses 15 of theirs.

In the event of a Chinese assault on Japanese bases, the latter might also experience civilian casualties of as few as a hundred to over a thousand people.

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China’s Gaining Strength, But It Won’t Be Enough

Sasakawa’s conclusion has been consistent with an earlier wargame the Center for Strategic and Internation Studies (CSIS) conducted in January.

According to CSIS, it would be impossible for China to successfully pull off an amphibious invasion of Taiwan. Running the simulation 24 times, all scenarios draw almost the same result: Beijing would fail, and Taipei would remain autonomous, but at a high cost for Japan and the US.

It is to note, however, that both simulations were based on today’s premise, which could significantly change if China continues to boost its military power. Thus, the coalition needs to step up its deterrence capabilities, as well as make sure to maintain two-to-three steps ahead of the hostile nation.

We must make every possible preparation for substantial losses while we still can,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior security fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, adding that China might be advancing in other aspects—including information warfare, space development, and cyber warfare.

In the exercise, China tried everything it could to avoid war with the US,” said Watanabe. “There’s the risk China might try tro unify with Taiwan without any physical military conflict.”

Aside from its fleet and military technologies, China has been working double time in ramping up its nuclear weapons arsenal—currently owning up to 350 warheads. While the US held the most nuclear munitions at 3,800 warheads, the number of lethal projectiles owned by Beijing could still increase in the next few years. Not to mention its possession of dozens of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can easily bombard Japan if it wants to. Both simulations did not consider the involvement of nuclear weapons, as well as the reaction of other surrounding ASEAN nations, which could make or break the actual result of the conflict.