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US to Deploy Land-Based Missiles in Indo-Pacific by 2024

The US military plans to deploy ground-based intermediate range missiles in the Indo-Pacific next year to enhance deterrence against China.

Missile options include land-based versions of the Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) and the Tomahawk cruise missile, Nikkei reported, citing US Army Pacific spokesperson Rob Phillips.

Both the missiles — with ranges of 350 kilometers (217 miles) and 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles), respectively — can be fired from the US Army’s Mid-Range Capability system also known as the Typhon weapon system.

Land-based missiles are more likely to avoid detection and enemy strikes compared to other deterrence options, such as naval ships and combat aircraft, and also don’t require ports and runways.

Senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies Mark Cancian told Nikkei that the Chinese missiles “would threaten the US [naval] bases in the western Pacific. The United States needs a similar capability so it can strike Chinese bases without risking ships or aircraft.”

Expiration of Missile Ban Treaty

This is the first potential deployment of missiles with such a range since the expiration of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019.

The 1987 treaty prohibited the US and Russia from developing and possessing land-based missiles with ranges of 500 kilometers (311 miles) to 5,500 kilometers (3,417 miles).

An unencumbered China, meanwhile, expanded its missile arsenal during the period, currently possessing 1,500 munitions with ranges between 1,000 kilometers (622 miles) and 5,500 kilometers, Nikkei wrote, citing the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power.

Possible Deployment Location

The army hasn’t revealed the deployment location. However, experts predict the US territory of Guam to be the most likely destination.

“These will be permanently deployed to US territories in the region, primarily Guam,” Nikkei quoted senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Ankit Panda.

“Allies may be open to rotational deployments in crises, but this is very much dependent on future political dynamics.”

Located 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) from the Chinese mainland, the missile units could be rapidly deployed from Guam to Asian allies in response to emergencies. 

As of now, however, China’s neighbors Japan and the Philippines are reluctant to host the weapons for the risk of becoming a potential Chinese target, according to Nikkei.

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