HALIFAX, Nova Scotia—Next year, U.S. Army Forces Pacific will deploy new intermediate-range missiles to the region as part of its efforts to deter China from invading Taiwan, its commander said Saturday.
These will include a limited number of land-based Tomahawks and SM-6s, Gen. Charles Flynn told reporters at the Halifax International Security Forum here.
“We have tested them and we have a battery or two of them today,” Flynn said. “In 24. We intend to deploy that system in your region. I’m not going to say where and when. But I will just say that we will deploy them.”
The deployment of land-based Tomahawks, whose variants can range up to 2,500 kilometers, was forbidden under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty until the U.S. withdrew in 2019, citing Russian non-compliance. The Marine Corps stood up its first Tomahawk battery in July at Camp Pendleton, California.
Flynn said these missiles might be followed by the Army’s Precision Strike Missile, which is set to reach initial operating capability this year.
“We shoot HIMARS in a number of these countries today,” he said. “This is just a different missile to put into it. So I don’t necessarily think we need to have an agreement ahead of time,” with different countries.
In earlier public remarks, Flynn reiterated what other U.S. Indo-Pacific Command officials have said: that more regional militaries are looking to exercise with U.S. forces as a response to China’s increasingly aggressive behavior to some countries in the region.
He also said that China’s military capabilities are accelerating.
How its military is “able to perform is very different in 2023 than it was in 2014, 2015, 16, 17 or 18. So that trajectory that they’re on is a dangerous one for the region, and, candidly, it’s a dangerous moment for the world,” he said.
In 2021, then-INDOPACOM commander Adm. Philip Davidson told Congress that China might invade Taiwan “in the next six years.” On Saturday, Flynn wouldn’t say whether or when he thought that might happen. But he did lay out various factors that could be shaping Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s thoughts.
“The first is economic sanctions, particularly the economic sanctions that have been levied on Russia, you know…can they withstand that? The second thing is: they are doubling down on the region to fragment, fracture, disassemble the network of allies and partners that the U.S. enjoys, and they are working every day on that. They’re doing that in the information space. They’re doing it in the air. They’re doing it at sea. They’re doing it on the ground. And so, again, that’s another area where he is assessing whether he can do this or not.”
Flynn said a third factor is China’s military readiness. Xi in August replaced several top generals from the Chinese rocket force. Said Flynn, “I believe that they are, you know, assessing. [Xi] is essentially assessing the military proficiency of his force to actually conduct a cross-strait invasion. That is a highly, highly complex operation, not to be taken lightly. It’s going to require all of their forces and it’s going to require a significant amount of expertise, precision, timing, sustainment—and I could go on and on.”
A final factor affecting the likelihood of a near-term invasion is the success of China’s influence and information operations, especially upon Taiwan’s upcoming January elections.
“They have to win the information war,” he said. “The U.S. has to be seen as a declining power and unreliable and they are seen as a reliable and ascending power and they have to win that war.”
Vincent Chao, a top Taiwanese official stationed in Washington, said these ongoing operations have three parts: “disinformation, disinformation, and disinformation.”
“They know that military actions, economic actions, ultimately backfire,” Chao, a member of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, said at Halifax. “So what we’ll focus on right now is spreading disinformation within our societies that focus on one thing: undermining support for this current administration. Now they have a finger on the scale. I mean, they have one desired outcome in this election.”