Behind Closed Doors, GOP Huddled To Game Out War With China

Chinese fighter jets in 2018 / Getty Images
March 23, 2023

ORLANDO, Fla.—While the potential arrest of former president Donald Trump took center stage at House Republicans' annual issues conference, lawmakers huddled Sunday night to map out the biggest threat facing the American people: an all-out war with China.

Any military action from Beijing would be swift and brutal, lawmakers who attended the closed-door security briefing told the Washington Free Beacon. American casualties in a conflict involving the United States, Taiwan, and China could total in the tens of thousands in just a matter of days, with China expected to use all military tools at its disposal to reclaim the island nation.

Members in attendance participated in a number of war-game scenarios, some beginning with a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and others a naval blockade of the South China Sea. Slides from the powerpoint presentation obtained by the Free Beacon show that lawmakers were briefed on 36 different hypothetical scenarios for a war with China. In some of the more extreme cases, the United States would face up to 20,000 military casualties in a single week—the most seen since World War II.

"It's going to be a bloody fight," said Nebraska Republican congressman Don Bacon, a U.S. Air Force veteran. "If we have time to get some munitions and aircraft there, we'd come out on top, but it'd still be bloody."

There is an expert consensus that China plans an invasion of Taiwan in the future, although exactly when is a matter of speculation. U.S. intelligence has concluded that an invasion could occur as soon as 2024 or by 2027. Tensions between Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the United States, have reached all-time highs in the last several years as Beijing has more forcefully laid claim to the island. The United States does not have a formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, but it has pledged to provide military aid should China attempt to reclaim the island and has provided billions of dollars in arms sales over the last several decades.

Lawmakers said the exercise, more than anything else, prepared Republicans who do not sit on foreign policy committees for just how quickly a war with China could break out, and how quickly they would be forced to make major decisions. Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.), a U.S. Army veteran who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said Chinese Communist Party officials have paid close attention to Russia's long and grueling battle in Ukraine and learned that a fast and overwhelming show of force is a way to avoid a war of attrition.

"I keep beating this drum, but more of our members realized that our timeline with China won't be what we saw with Russia," Waltz said. "We won't have this long, slow buildup to figure out what we want to do, and debate what we're going to do."

Former U.S. Navy rear admiral Mark Montgomery, who along with other military experts oversaw the war games, presented a scenario where in 2025 China mobilized forces across the Taiwan Strait. The United States, according to Montgomery, would have roughly 30 days of notice before People's Liberation Army forces began striking Taiwan.

At that point, according to the war games' instructions, the U.S. military would have to decide the best course of action. Options include striking mainland China, attacking China's ships, or overwhelming Chinese forces with a blockade of sorts and stopping ground troops from setting foot on Taiwan. All of those scenarios, according to members who attended, involved significant U.S. casualties.

The war games participants concluded that the United States would emerge victorious over the Chinese in the military dispute and successfully repel the People's Liberation Army forces from Taiwan or end a blockade in the South China Sea. Republican lawmakers said the United States' advantage centered around its superior submarines and airpower, even if victory came at a great cost.

In particular, two fleets of U.S. aircraft—the F-22 and F-35—would prove decisive in a military confrontation with China. But deploying those airplanes could put U.S. aircraft carriers in jeopardy, another lawmaker added.

The bloodiest scenarios in the war games involved the destruction of those carriers, which can hold as many as 5,000 personnel. China's hypersonic missiles are seen as a direct response to the United States' naval superiority and are capable of striking ships 600 miles away.

"A lot of members don't know just how bad it is, how the Chinese are overmatching us," said Waltz. "We have very little time to consider how to respond. We're talking about hypersonic missiles crashing into aircraft carriers, potential strikes on the Chinese mainland with a potential nuclear escalation."

Aside from military casualties, domestic civilian life in the United States could change overnight should China invade Taiwan. Members said the war games described a U.S. economy suddenly cut from the global marketplace—Walmart shelves bare, U.S. electric grids shut down due to cyberattacks, stocks tanking, and Americans unable to fill prescriptions.

The war games session ended with a list of recommendations for the Department of Defense, according to the presentation obtained by the Free Beacon. Among those proposals include manufacturing more long-range cruise missiles and attack submarines, as well as greater investment in air defense capabilities at U.S. military bases in the region.

That conclusion echoed concerns outlined by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies in January that the Pentagon's weapon supply is "not adequately prepared" for a war to protect Taiwan.

The Biden administration, the presentation said, also needs to clear a $19 billion arms sale backlog to Taiwan. Providing more munitions, weapons, tanks, and planes to Taiwan now, several Republicans said, could deter China from ever invading.

"We need to be pressuring the Biden administration to supply more weapons to Taiwan," said Bacon, who believes war could be avoided altogether by supplying Taiwan with more weapons now. "We need to deter that fight right now."

Another Republican lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the classified nature of the briefing, said members left with "a great appreciation of how difficult a job our military has to protect U.S. interests" in Taiwan.

Members left the briefing determined to inform the public about why they should care about an island nation nearly 8,000 miles away from Washington, D.C. You cannot wait until missiles are flying to go home and hold town halls on the importance of fighting China, the lawmakers learned.

Not every lawmaker left Orlando confident in the United States' ability to protect Taiwan. Florida congressman Byron Donalds told the Free Beacon that without a strong economy—including a sustainable national debt—the United States could see Taiwan fall to China. "You can't get ready for a war like this if you don't have money," Donalds said. "The Soviet Union proved that."

"I don't think the American people are ready for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan because our leaders have been dithering," he added. "We have to get back to basics, the Pentagon is more concerned with climate change and diversity, equity, and inclusion programming."

The House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing on Thursday on the "impact of DEI policies and trainings on the readiness, lethality, and cohesion of the military forces."