Picking up an offensive role in the Pentagon’s operational buildup in the Indo-Pacific in preparations for any potential conflict with China, the U.S. Army hopes to field new long-range land-based missiles by 2023.
The Army isn't sure which one of the U.S. allies in the Asia Pacific — if any —would be willing to host ground-launched missiles, but military strategists point to Guam and Palau as default possibilities.
In a press briefing with the Defense Writers Group last week, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said forming new Multi-Domain Task Force units armed with long-range missiles will provide "multiple options to the combatant commander."
Defense News last week reported that in addition to the initial fielding of its Precision Strike Missile, or PrSM — which is capable of hitting targets out to 499 kilometers — and ground-launched hypersonic missiles by 2023, the Army will also deliver a mid-range missile prototype in the same time frame.
For Navy Adm. Philip Davidson of Indo-Pacific Command, the more options the better. “A wider base of long-range precision fires… enabled by all our terrestrial forces — not just sea and air but by land forces as well — is critically important to stabilizing what is becoming a more unstable environment in the western Pacific," he told the Armed Forces committee. “Long-range precision fires delivered by the ground force, I think, are critically important.”
But military experts are expecting not-in-my-backyard reactions from allied countries in Asia, acknowledging that the mere presence of U.S weapons with the potential to threaten China may present a precarious situation for any nation.
Guam, as the main hub of military operations in the Asia Pacific, is familiar with this situation. It is a pawn in the growing geopolitical game in the region. Over the years, the island has been in the crosshairs of China and North Korea.
"It is already a target," Davidson said during a dialog hosted March 4 by the think tank American Enterprise Institute. He is the proponent of the installation of Aegis Ashore defense missile on Guam.
Besides Guam, military strategists are also eyeing Palau, which is amenable to military expansion in the country. Former President Tommy Remengesau last year invited the Department of Defense to build a military base in Palau.
“So, for the time being, the Army will need to rely on Guam and potentially Palau or Australia for a location to base long-range missiles, and then deploy closer when geopolitical conditions deteriorate,” Thomas Spoehr, a retired three-star Army general now with the Heritage Foundation, said in an interview with the military-centric news outlet Breaking Defense.
Spoehr said the Philippines may be out of the question, considering President Rodrigo Duterte's bipolar policy with China. The Philippines, an old U.S. ally,
swings back and forth between accepting and condemning Beijing.
"It would then take something really significant for a country like the Philippines to allow the U.S. to bring missiles forward, like a real brush-up in the South China Sea with ships sunk, and probably only if the Philippines had a different political administration," Breaking Defenses quoted Spoehr as saying.
Last year, the Congressional Research Service released a report, citing national security experts' recommendation for a military buildup in the freely associated states, which have assumed greater importance as U.S. security partners amid China's growing threat in the region.