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US Lawmakers Focus on Containing China’s Missile Expansion

U.S. lawmakers have introduced a new bill that would require the secretary of defense to develop a strategy for building “Rings of Fire” in the Indo-Pacific region to shrink the missile gap with China in concert with allies.

Republican Representatives Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa introduced the Rings of Fire Act of 2023 on Friday.

“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,” Ernst said.

“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,” Gallagher said in a press release.

The bill includes a list of potential locations to place missile systems in the region, the designation of a specific commander tasked with overseeing the effort, and a list of allies with which Washington could develop a strategy, according to Gallagher’s office.

Geologically, the “ring of fire” refers to a 40,000-kilometer-long zone marked by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions extending in a horseshoe shape around the Pacific Ocean.

report titled “Rings of Fire: A Conventional Missile Strategy for a Post-INF Treaty World,” released last August by the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says the most appropriate set of rings corresponds to the ranges of the existing classes of conventional missiles: short-, medium- and intermediate-range.

One of the report’s authors, Tyler Hacker, told VOA Mandarin via email on July 13 that a “rings of fire” strategy would optimally match different ground-based missile systems with potential operating locations, as it can “take advantage of the plethora of existing allied missile capabilities in the first island chain (inner ring) and maximize the utility of strategic geography in the middle and outer rings.”

The bill’s sponsors wrote in an op-ed for Fox News that “Japan and the Philippines could host shorter-range systems, while longer-range systems could be deployed to northern Australia, the Pacific Islands and Alaska.”

The op-ed also mentioned that according to a Pentagon report, China has deployed more than 1,250 ground-launched theater-range ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km that can strike U.S. targets in the Indo-Pacific region.

When asked during a hearing before the Senate Armed Forces Committee on April 20 whether the U.S. deployed land-based theater missiles with the same range, Admiral John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said it did not. Asked if the U.S. is developing the missiles with a range at 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers, Aquilino responded it was not.

The commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Anthony Cotton, who oversees nuclear forces, told both House and Senate Armed Services committees on January 26 via letter that China has more land-based fixed and mobile Intercontinental ballistic missile launchers than the U.S.

Bryan Clark, director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at the Hudson Institute, told VOA Mandarin via email on July 12 that the U.S. and allied forces will have far too few air defense missiles to counter China’s growing inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles.

According to research compiled by the Federation of American Scientists, China has had more than 450 launchers as of October 2022, while the U.S. Air Force has 400 silos with missiles and another 50 empty silos that could be loaded if necessary.

“As we see in Ukraine, missile defenses can be effective but are depleted quickly in even a relatively small conflict,” Clark said. “U.S. forces will have to withdraw to longer ranges from China to reduce the number of Chinese missiles they face and use long-range anti-ship missiles of their own to attack Chinese forces invading Taiwan. These longer-range U.S. anti-ship missiles are expensive and in limited supply. They are, therefore, likely to run out before even the initial fighting has subsided.”

Clark suggests a better approach “has been to prioritize shorter-range cruise missiles that can be carried by submarines or aircraft flying from U.S. carriers or land bases to attack Chinese ships and targets ashore. By using stealth aircraft or ships, these missiles can be launched closer to Chinese territory and, therefore, be smaller and less expensive. They can, therefore, be more numerous.”

Kyle Bass, the founder and chief investment officer of Hayman Capital Management, is on the China Center Advisory Board at the Hudson Institute. At a July 12 event there, “China Prepares for War: A Timeline,” he told VOA Mandarin he thinks the U.S. has the best submarine fleet in the world and doesn’t need to encircle China with conventional missiles.

“I don’t think encircling China with our missiles is necessarily even a good idea on the land base. But I do think that we have all the firepower we need at the moment. And I don’t think the basic missile counts matter,” Bass said.

He said the U.S. should cripple China economically by disconnecting it from SWIFT, the international financial transaction settlement system. That, he suggested, would quickly bring China’s economy to a halt.

He said the U.S. should get “Treasury and OFAC [the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control] to socialize the concept of pressing this economic nuclear button. But if we really want to be effective, we press that button.”

Clark believes the reliance of the “Rings of Fire” on expensive ballistic missiles and host nation basing makes it ill-suited as a primary strategy for countering China, as “U.S. allies may not want to host them, where they would be a clear provocation to China.”

He suggested the U.S. strategy should prioritize the use of expendable uncrewed air and surface vehicles. For example, he said, U.S. forces could field uncrewed surface vessels to Taiwan and the Southwest Islands of Japan, where they could be quickly employed as suicide boats or launch loitering munitions and small missiles against Chinese ships.

“This approach has worked for Ukraine against the Russian Navy in the Black Sea,” he said, “and in the constrained waters around Taiwan, it could be an effective counter to a Chinese invasion force.”

Source : VOA News