Esper’s comments are likely to raise concern about an arms race and could add to an already tense relationship with China.
“Yeah, I would like to,” Esper said, when asked whether he was considering placing such missiles in Asia.
“I would prefer months … but these things tend to take longer than you expect,” he told reporters traveling with him to Sydney when asked about a timeline for when the missiles could be deployed.
The United States formally left the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia on Friday after determining Moscow was violating the treaty, an accusation that the Kremlin has denied.
On Friday, senior U.S. officials said that any deployment of such weaponry would be years away.
Within the next few weeks, the United States is expected to test a ground-launched cruise missile, and in November, the Pentagon will aim to test an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
Both would be tests of conventional weapons – and not nuclear.
The 1987 pact banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,400 miles (500-5,500 km).
U.S. officials have been warning for years that the United States was being put at a disadvantage by China’s development of increasingly sophisticated land-based missile forces, which the Pentagon could not match due to the U.S. treaty with Russia.