US land-based intermediate-range missile deployment in Indo-Pacific may trigger nuclear escalation

China Military Online
Huang Panyue
2023-12-05 17:57:19

Recently, a spokesperson for the United States Army Pacific said that the land-based intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) will be deployed in the Indo-Pacific region in 2024. This will mark the first time since its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019, which will introduce more destabilizing factors to the persistent tensions in global security and aggravate the regional arms race and bloc confrontation risks.

The US military is supposed to deploy the Typhon missile launching system, with each launcher equipped with a four-cell MK41 vertical launch system capable of firing land-attack Standard SM-6 missiles and land-based Tomahawk cruise missiles. In June 2023, the US Army declared that the Typhon system had been tested to possess full operational capability.

The Standard SM-6 missiles were originally designed as a type of long-range air defense missile for the US Navy but were reapplied in the strategic medium-range fire systems by the US Army in November 2020, aiming at striking the land-based long-range missiles and ground targets of adversaries.

The land-based Tomahawk cruise missiles are a type of ground-attack cruise missile with a shooting range of up to 2,500 kilometers. The US had deployed this type of missile during the Cold War, which was banned after the conclusion of the INF Treaty between the US and the Soviet Union in 1987. However, in the wake of the abolition of the Treaty, the US soon lifted the ban and re-launched these missiles.

In addition to the above two missiles, the Typhon system can also launch a variety of other types of missiles to easily integrate air defense, anti-missile, anti-ship and land attack capabilities, thus becoming a prioritized project to promote in the Indo-Pacific for the US Army.

Moreover, the US also has several other land-based IRBM projects that are probably to be simultaneously deployed in the Indo-Pacific in the future. The first is the precision strike missiles (PrSM) with an initial range of 499 kilometers but increased to 1,000 kilometers in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty. The second is the Army's long-range hypersonic weapon Dark Eagle covering up to 2,775 kilometers, the longest range of land-based intermediate-range missiles developed by the US currently.

Inter-service rivalry is an important reason for the US military vigorously developing and deploying land-based intermediate-range missiles in the Indo-Pacific. The US Army intends to claim a portion of the rising national defense budget by hyping up the so-called “China military threat theory”.

However, the US deployment of land-based IRBMs in the Indo-Pacific is obviously not conducive to regional strategic stability. First, it may trigger nuclear escalation. These weapons could be employed to attack land strategic objectives or even nuclear targets in the future. For example, Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor to President Biden, claimed that capabilities like hypersonic missiles will help enhance nuclear deterrence capability, which could result in conflicts transcending the conventional nuclear boundary and posing a significant risk of escalation.

Second, it may further complicate relationships among regional countries. The US has been evasive and reticent about the specific deployment location of the missiles and the regional countries are reluctant to invite trouble. Nevertheless, it cannot preclude that the US deliberately creates disturbances and sows discord among regional countries to create favorable conditions for the launching of land-based intermediate-range missiles in the Indo-Pacific. 

(The author is the director of the Center for Arms Control Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations)

Editor's note: Originally published on opinion, this article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information and opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

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