Cover: Ground-Based Intermediate-Range Missiles in the Indo-Pacific

Ground-Based Intermediate-Range Missiles in the Indo-Pacific

Assessing the Positions of U.S. Allies

Published Apr 28, 2022

by Jeffrey W. Hornung

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Research Questions

  1. What is the likelihood that Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the ROK, and Thailand would agree to host U.S. GBIRMs?
  2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of potential alternatives to permanently basing U.S. GBIRMs on the territories of U.S. allies?
  3. Which alternative is the most feasible for the United States to pursue?

When the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019, it opened for itself the opportunity to develop and deploy ground-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km — what this report calls ground-based intermediate-range missiles (GBIRMs). But the U.S. withdrawal also sparked a debate regarding where the United States could deploy such missiles. This became a critical topic in the Indo-Pacific because China was never a signatory to the INF Treaty, enabling it to develop a wide array of capabilities that the United States was prohibited from fielding.

Considering this threat, the United States has been hoping to develop and deploy a new conventionally armed GBIRM to the Indo-Pacific, but how U.S. allies will respond to Washington's overtures to host GBIRMs is not clear.

The author analyzes the likelihood of U.S. treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific region—Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Thailand—hosting U.S. GBIRMs. Because these countries are unlikely to agree, the author also examines alternatives to permanently basing these missiles on allies' territories: (1) U.S. co-development of GBIRMs with and/or sales of GBIRMs to an ally for it to command and control, (2) U.S. deployment of GBIRMs to an allied territory in a crisis, (3) peacetime rotational deployment, and (4) deployment on Guam or one of the Compact of Free Association states. Because of drawbacks with each alternative, the author recommends a variation of the first: helping Japan develop an arsenal of ground-based anti-ship standoff missile capabilities.

Key Findings

A U.S. strategy that relies on an ally agreeing to permanently host GBIRMs risks failing because of an inability to find a willing partner

  • As long as Thailand continues to have a military-backed government that pursues closer ties with China, the United States would not want Thailand to host GBIRMs — and Thailand would be highly unlikely to accept them anyway.
  • The U.S. alliance with the Philippines is in flux. As long as a president continues policies toward the United States and China similar to those of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines is extremely unlikely to accept U.S. GBIRMs.
  • Chinese opposition to the ROK hosting a U.S. defensive missile system, the ROK's susceptibility to Chinese pressure, and a deterioration of U.S.-ROK relations suggest that it is highly unlikely that the ROK would accept U.S. GBIRMs.
  • Although Australia's strong historical ties with the United States means that the possibility that it would host U.S. GBIRMs cannot be ruled out, its historical reluctance to host permanent foreign bases and its distance from continental Asia make this unlikely.
  • Because of Japan's willingness to strengthen its alliance with the United States and bolster its defense capabilities, Japan is the regional ally that appears most likely to host U.S. GBIRMs. However, that possibility remains low.

Should the United States continue to pursue GBIRMs for the Indo-Pacific, the strategy most likely to succeed would be helping Japan develop an arsenal of ground-based, anti-ship missile capabilities

  • This would be the first step in a longer-term U.S. strategy to encourage Japan to procure similar missiles with longer ranges.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by Pacific Air Forces and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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