Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) are forcing the Pentagon to create a plan to shrink the missile gap with China and strengthen deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. This plan would ensure the U.S. can develop and deploy ground-based theater-range missiles by identifying key allies and basing locations that would field credible and affordable combat power.
After questioning by Ernst, Admiral John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command,revealed that the United States has zero fielded capabilities to match China’s arsenal of theater-range missiles nor does it have any longer-range theater missiles under development. While the U.S. has had the ability to build and deploy these missiles since it rightly withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019, the Pentagon has made little progress at meaningfully doing so, allowing the Chinese Communist Party to build a sizeable missile advantage in the region.
Ernst and Gallagher’s “rings of fire” strategy, included in the House and Senate versions of this year’sNational Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), leverages allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific to host shorter and longer-range missile systems, creating “rings of fire” across the region, to offset China’s missile advantage. This will enhance deterrence against China by forcing the communist country to defend against unpredictable strikes from varying distances and approaches.
“China’s aggression is growing, and a strong deterrence strategy is needed to confront the Chinese Communist Party. As China’s rocket force has taken the lead in the Indo-Pacific, the shocking gap in America’s missile capabilities calls deterrence into question,” said Ernst. “I’m working to close this gap by building ‘rings of fire’ around our pacing threat and reduce China’s home-field advantage. Through coordination with key allies, we can develop and deploy the missiles we need throughout the Indo-Pacific and force China’s military onto its back foot, so Xi Jinping thinks twice before taking Taiwan by force. It’s time to offset China’s missile advantage and keep the peace through strength.”
“The Chinese Communist Party has spent years building a rocket force that can push American ships out of a fight and target American forces further out across the Indo-Pacific—reaching our own borders. It’s time we use this logic against them and build an anti-Navy and an advanced, theater-range missile force of our own,” said Gallagher. “Surging these missiles and dispersing them across the region is a clear way to make Xi Jinping think twice about moving on Taiwan, but top Pentagon leadership has not taken the steps necessary to develop and deploy these missiles. The Rings of Fire Act takes a critical step towards building these deterrent capabilities by ensuring the Secretary of Defense has a plan to put these missiles in Xi Jinping’s path and help prevent war in the Indo-Pacific.”
The Rings of Fire Act specifically outlines requirements for the Secretary of Defense to develop a strategy no later than 180 days after its enactment. The strategy must include:
- An assessment of current gaps in the United States’ theater-range precision strike capabilities;
- An identification of military requirements for these missile systems;
- A list of prospective locations to base these missile systems;
- A description of operational concepts for use of these missiles;
- An identification of allies and strategies for co-development of new missiles;
- A cost and feasible time assessment for developing and deploying these missiles;
- The designation of a commander to be responsible for the theater missile strategy.
Ernst and Gallagher authored an op-ed on this effort here.