China could be at war with the United States two years from now, a top Air Force general predicted in a memo to troops under his command, asserting a significantly shorter timeline before potential conflict than any other senior U.S. defense official to date.
Gen. Michael Minihan, who as head of Air Mobility Command oversees the service's fleet of transport and refueling aircraft, warned personnel to speed their preparations for a potential conflict, citing Chinese President Xi Jinping's aspirations and the possibility that Americans will not be paying attention until it is too late.
"I hope I am wrong," Minihan wrote. "My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. Xi secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan's presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States' presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi's team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025."
Minihan then directs airmen who are qualified to use a weapon to "fire a clip into a 7-meter target with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most" sometime in February.
"Aim for the head," he said.
Minihan's memo encourages the thousands of troops under his command to prepare for war in several other regards. All personnel reporting to him should "consider their personal affairs" and be more aggressive about training, he instructs.
"Run deliberately, not recklessly," he writes. "If you are comfortable in your approach to training, then you are not taking enough risk."
The memo, first reported Friday by NBC News, is dated Wednesday -- which is still days away -- and was distributed to Minihan's subordinate commanders.
An Air Force spokeswoman, Maj. Hope Cronin, verified its authenticity, writing in a statement shared with media after the memo began circulating on social media that Minihan's order "builds on last year's foundational efforts by Air Mobility Command to ready the Air Mobility Forces for future conflict, should deterrence fail."
A Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, said Friday the U.S. national defense strategy makes clear "that China is the pacing challenge of the Department of Defense" and that U.S. officials are working with allies and partners to "preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific."
A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Minihan's comments "are not representative of the department's view on China."
Before taking over at Air Mobility Command in 2021, Minihan served in a variety of influential roles in the Pacific beginning in 2013. They include a stint as the deputy commander of Indo-Pacific Command, with purview of China and Taiwan, from September 2019 to August 2021.
The general's memo coincides with an effort by the Pentagon to reset 20 years of counterinsurgency wars in the Middle East and as the Biden administration continues to equip Ukraine with billions of dollars in security assistance as it strives to fight off a Russian invasion.
Senior U.S. officials have warned for some time that an ascendant China may launch an assault on Taiwan, which is governed independently.
The Defense Department under President Biden and his predecessor, President Donald Trump, has declared China its primary long-term concern, citing Beijing's rapid military expansion and assertive behavior in recent years. But U.S. officials have offered mixed messages on whether and when China might attempt to take Taiwan.
In 2021, Adm. Phil Davidson, then the chief of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, predicted Beijing could make such an attempt by 2027. That timeline has since been dubbed "the Davidson window" by some national security scholars.
In light of its concerns about China, the Pentagon has sought to expand military partnerships with willing partners throughout the Pacific. This month, the U.S. and Japanese governments disclosed that a Marine Corps unit on the Japanese island of Okinawa will be refashioned into a force capable of hopping islands in the region and directing long-range missiles at adversaries.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking Jan. 11 during a news conference alongside Japanese officials, said that the United States had observed some "very provocative behavior" from Chinese forces in an attempt to push international norms. But he also downplayed concerns that China may launch an assault on Taiwan anytime soon.
"We've seen increased activity in aerial activity," Austin said. "We've seen increased surface vessel activity around Taiwan. And again, we believe that they endeavor to establish a new normal, but whether or not that means that an invasion is imminent, I seriously doubt that."
Minihan, who entered the Air Force as a C-130 pilot, has previously captured attention for his strident, colorful language.
In September, he said at a military conference outside Washington the Air Force had caused the largest "pile of our nation's enemy dead" within the U.S. military.
"Lethality matters most," he added, according to Task & Purpose, a military publication. "When you can kill your enemy, every part of your life is better. Your food tastes better. Your marriage is stronger."