U.S. Cruise Missiles Could Determine Taiwan's Future

The United States Air Force (USAF) and Lockheed Martin have developed a specialized air-launched cruise missile known as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile - Extended Range (JASSM-ER), which could be a decisive weapon in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently ran a series of war games to simulate a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 2026 that featured varying degrees of U.S. and Japanese intervention. The results of the simulations showed that, in the scenarios where Taiwan and its allies prevailed, the JASSM-ER had a decisive impact on the outcome.

The JASSM-ER is a stealthy, air-launched cruise missile with a range of nearly 800 miles that is designed to sink Chinese transport ships in order to cut the PLA’s supply lines and restore the Taiwanese military’s own supply. CSIS estimated that the USAF and USN would have more than 3,600 JASSM-ERs in 2026, enough to sink the Chinese fleet and further degrade the PLA’s logistics.

However, there is still uncertainty about the missile's effectiveness against ships, as it was optimized for overland strikes. The Pentagon is currently working on a version of the original JASSM—the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles—with a seeker and warhead optimized for hitting ships, but it is too early in production to make a big difference in a near-term conflict. Therefore, the success of the JASSM-ER in a possible conflict over Taiwan will depend on whether the USAF and USN can merge the software code in the LRASM and JASSM-ER, which could result in a “merged Navy JASSM baseline” where the JASSM is equally capable of striking targets on land or at sea. If successful, the JASSM-ER could help ensure a decisive victory for the U.S. and its allies.


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