WASHINGTON — Top civilian and uniformed Army leaders said 2023 will be a pivotal year to train new capabilities and equip U.S. forces to deter China from attacking Taiwan.
During a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth and U.S. Army Pacific Commander Gen. Charles Flynn spoke about the “linchpin” role the service plays in joint force operations, despite perceptions that the Indo-Pacific is a Navy and Air Force dominated theatre.
“We’re really building out our integrated air and missile defense capabilities, for example, to be able to protect those kinds of staging bases that are going to be key,” Wormuth said at the Feb. 27 event. “We offer the opportunity to provide security indications to the broader course to again to provide intra-theatre sustainment, setting up initial stockpiles, setting up forward air refueling points, protecting them.”
Part of those missile defense capabilities include long-range hypersonic weapons. Wormuth announced during the panel that the Army’s first battery of long-range hypersonic weapons will be a part of the service’s first multi-domain task force in the fall, following current training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
Despite efforts by Washington and its allies to dissuade China against reclaiming the self-governing island, Flynn said the People’s Liberation Army’s preparations do not reflect a country building up its defenses, rather a country preparing for a military conflict outside of its borders.
“They are rehearsing, they are practicing, they are experimenting, and they are preparing those forces for something,” he said. “But you don’t build up that kind of arsenal just to defend and protect. You probably are building up for other purposes.”
In January, Gen. Mike Minihan, who leads Air Mobility Command, urged his troops to prepare for war in memo leaked on social media. He predicted Chinese President Xi Jinping, now in his third term, would take advantage of possibly fraught elections in Taiwan and the United States in 2024.
Wormuth, although not directly mentioning the memo, said she did not agree with Minihan’s perspective on China’s timeline. Flynn highlighted how much manpower and resources it would take to build an invasion force to even get off of mainland China — and the complexities of crossing more than 80 miles of water and holding gains once forces have landed.
“The complexity of a joint Island random campaign is not a small matter,” Flynn said. “You have to be an incredibly professional, well trained, well led force, and they’re working on it. But I will tell you that, in my part, from my perspective, they’re not 10 feet tall. They have work to do, and I think that now’s the time for us to get into position to be able to deter that event from happening.”
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.