AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Amid Joe Biden and congressional Democrats’ continuing neglect of the country’s missile defense infrastructure, House Republicans are calling for more attention and resources to address the problem.
A slate of amendments offered by Republicans to the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) version of the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which was released late last week, are aimed squarely at countering the threat from Chinese and Russian missiles.
One amendment, offered by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), directs the Pentagon to provide “options to improve the existing integrated air and missile defense architecture.” Another proposed by Guam’s non-voting delegate James Moylan would require a report and briefing to Congress by November on the new missile defense system for his home island to ensure the program “maintain[s] schedule and remain[s] on track to achieve an initial operational capability.”
The HASC bill would also require the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress by June of next year determining if the military has enough resources and capabilities to defend itself from “hypersonic-, ballistic-, cruise-missile and air attack.”
If recent developments and warnings from top military experts are any indication, the answer to that question will likely be a resounding “no” – particularly in the Indo-Pacific.
Both China and Russia have made major advancements in missile technology in recent years, which Russia has demonstrated in its brutal assault on Ukraine. Meanwhile, China has grown more aggressive in the South China Sea, particularly with respect to Taiwan.
Many Indo-Pacific analysts who observed China’s military exercises around Taiwan last August believe that Beijing unintentionally revealed its true ambitions in the region, which go far beyond reuniting Taiwan with the mainland.
Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, a fluent Mandarin speaker who is now a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, has said that he believes a potential Chinese assault on Taiwan would be just the first part of a multi-pronged offensive against the United States in which China’s hypersonic missiles would be the tip of the spear.
Dr. Yoshihara and other experts believe that in a potential offensive, China would stealthily deploy its submarines near to the American west coast to attack targets on U.S. soil. Meanwhile, Chinese naval forces would use DF-26 missiles, with a range of 950 miles, to target U.S. bases in places like Guam and Okinawa, as well as American allies like Japan and Australia. Although Chinese subs are currently noisy and relatively easy to detect, closer cooperation between China and Russia could lead to technology sharing that tilts the balance in underwater warfare in Beijing’s favor.
The Bangkok Post also reported earlier this month that China is building “the most powerful warship on record.” The new vessel can detect ballistic missiles up to 2,800 miles away – far superior to most ships’ capabilities of a few hundred miles.
Japanese military leaders have also warned that increasing cooperation between the Chinese and Russian militaries could put the U.S. and its Pacific allies – including Japan – at increased risk from missile threats. General Fumio Ota, the former Director of Intelligence at Japan’s defense agency, has said the presence of Chinese naval vessels operating alongside Russian ships last year in the Sea of Okhotsk, just north of Japan, should be concerning for Japanese and American leaders.
According to General Ota, Putin, under increasing pressure owing to Russia’s struggles in the Ukraine war, may consider opening Russian bases to Chinese missile installations in the Kamchatka peninsula – just over 3,000 miles from Seattle – and Chuguyevka northeast of Vladivostok, from where the Su-15 took off that shot down a Korean Airlines civilian flight in 1983. From these positions, China could have direct access to American cities without having to risk their submarines being detected by the U.S. Navy. Chinese-Russian cooperation in the Arctic also opens alarming new possibilities for Beijing.
Major General Charles Corcoran, a former Assistant Deputy Chief at Air Force headquarters, has said current missile defense measures are essential but insufficient to address this mounting threat. He has called for the rapid deployment of 24 satellites with sensors to track hypersonic and ballistic missiles in order to assist U.S. interceptor technology – something President Biden has been reluctant to invest in, but which HASC Republicans called for in their defense budget.
But aside from just military investment in projects like missile defense and response capabilities, the Biden administration also needs to realize the importance of America’s alliance system in the Indo-Pacific. In May, Biden canceled a meeting with the so-called “Quad” alliance of the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India in what many observers viewed as a sign of the president’s insufficient focus on the region.
Indo-Pacific specialists have also said that Biden’s strategy focuses too much on ideological items like “climate change” and not enough on real issues like supply chain resilience and military cooperation with allies. This presents a sharp contrast to President Trump’s approach, which prioritized the Quad relationship and building a united front against Beijing.
President Biden and his foreign policy team continue to tout the big bucks they are spending on defense. But unless those dollars are invested wisely, and until the administration acknowledges the nature and depth of the threats the country faces in the Pacific, the United States and its allies will continue to be at risk.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.