A senior Air Force general warned that the U.S. could be at war with China within two years in an unusual memo to troops that predicts a much shorter timeline for a potential conflict than publicly disclosed by the Pentagon.
Gen. Mike Minihan, who commands the Air Mobility Command, cited the 2024 presidential elections in Taiwan and the U.S., which he said could leave the U.S. “distracted,” giving Chinese President Xi Jinping a window of opportunity to attack Taiwan.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” he wrote in the memo first obtained by NBC News.
As the head of Air Mobility Command, Gen. Minihan oversees nearly 50,000 service members responsible for air transport and refueling.
In the memo addressed to his subordinate air wing commanders and other Air Force operational commanders, Gen. Minihan told those under his command to begin building “a fortified, ready, integrated, and agile Joint Force Maneuver Team ready to fight and win inside the first island chain.”
He ordered commands under his purview to report all major efforts to prepare for a war with China by the end of February.
The memo also directs all personnel under his command to “fire a clip into a 7-meter target,” during the month of February, “with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most.”
“Aim for the head,” he wrote.
The four-star general also encourages his troops to accept risks in training, telling them to “Run deliberately, not recklessly.”
“If you are comfortable in your approach to training, then you are not taking enough risk,” he wrote.
Gen. Minihan also directs personnel under his command to “consider their personal affairs and whether a visit should be scheduled with their servicing base legal office to ensure they are legally ready and prepared” during the month of March.
An Air Mobility Command spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the memo in a statement to NBC News.
“This is an authentic internal memo from General Minihan addressed to his subordinate command teams. His order builds on last year’s foundational efforts by Air Mobility Command to ready the Mobility Air Forces for future conflict, should deterrence fail” the spokesperson said.
The Pentagon has acknowledged that China poses a “pacing threat” to the U.S. military, but the stunning memo conveys an unusual sense of urgency.
Earlier this month Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin acknowledged during a news conference with Japanese officials that China has engaged in “very provocative behavior” but downplayed concerns that an invasion of Taiwan by China was imminent.
A defense department official told NBC News that the views expressed in Gen. Minihan’s memo are “not representative of the department’s view on China.”
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told the outlet that “The National Defense Strategy makes clear that China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense and our focus remains on working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”