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 A target without bomb shelters: Guam official says, ‘Resilience is our armor’

Updated: 6 days ago


Chinese missile
 Security experts say China’s "Guam Killer" DF-26 missile poses the biggest threat to the U.S. (Screengrab)

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

 

The Guam missile defense system is touted to provide 360-degree protection for the island in case of a possible attack from China. Still, security experts have raised concerns about the seeming lack of community-centric preparations.


“Instead of fostering a sense of increased security, Guam finds itself as a major target consistently featured in war-game simulations,” according to the authors of a report published in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, describing Guam as “a target without bomb shelters.”


“The absence of shelters or comprehensive plans to manage an attack on Guam raises concerns that the ongoing construction and fortification efforts may, in fact, render the island (and its people) more of a target,” the authors, Sylvia C. Frain, Kieren Rudge, and Nathan A. Tilton. wrote in the report titled “Democratic Deficiencies and the Price of Security” published on March 14. “While Taiwan and Japan have established shelter infrastructure and evacuation plans, Guam currently lacks any such provisions.”


But as far as the local government is concerned, Guam is secure. “In lieu of traditional bomb shelters, our strategic approach on Guam is to leverage the robust network of concrete structures that dot our island,” said Esther Aguigui, the governor's special assistant for homeland security. “While designated bomb shelters may not exist, we stand fortified by our majority of concrete buildings.”


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Just the same, she acknowledged the “urgency of preparedness” for residents living in substandard homes. “Our office steadfastly advocates for comprehensive emergency planning, emphasizing the need for family communication strategies and clearly defined safe meeting points,” Aguigui said.


Guam is no stranger to war, being a battleground during World War II that killed thousands and left the island in shambles. Guam is often referred to as a lynchpin for U.S. military strategy. As a military post in the Pacific today, the island is in the crosshairs of China and North Korea.


“In this dynamic landscape, resilience is our armor, and vigilance our watchword,” Aguigui said.


Vera Topasna, executive director of the Community Defense Liaison Office, said shelter construction has not been discussed at the Civilian-Military Coordinating Council meetings.

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The Department of Defense is proposing a $1.5 billion enhanced integrated air and missile defense system with multiple components to be installed across the island.


Frain, Rudge and Tilton said China’s awareness of the U.S. military’s lethal power on Guam makes the island more vulnerable. This underscores why national security concerns should not solely focus on the continental United States but also address real, immediate threats and the preparations for war,” they wrote. “Adopting a genuine security lens that centers on Guam, the next section outlines crucial considerations that must also be considered.”


Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman, commander of the Joint Task Force Micronesia, said shelter planning is under local jurisdiction. “I would really actually defer more toward the government of Guam and the homeland defense folks there in terms of the sheltering aspect,” he said.


Huffman said the U.S. military seeks to be “as prepared as we can be for any eventuality.” While driving for deterrence, he said the Department of Defense aims at making sure Guam has “a good, solid defense in depth.”

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However, he added, “When it comes to shelters and those types of things, that's really more on the Department of Homeland Defense and the local municipality.”


Meanwhile, at the Pentagon top officials warned that the Iranian strikes against Israel could be a mere preview of the much larger salvos China could launch at Guam and other Pacific targets in a future war.


“In a highly contested fight over the Indo-Pacific, that could be even greater numbers,” Heidi Shyu, undersecretary for research, development and engineering. said during a missile defense conference hosted last month by the National Defense Industrial Association.


While the ship-borne Aegis air defense system has proven itself by successfully shooting down ballistic missiles aimed at Israel, Shyu said the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Europe served as a reminder that complacency is not an option.


She said the sheer scale of the future threat will require more and cheaper interceptors, new defenses such as high-powered lasers, and preemptive or retaliatory strikes on enemy launchers.

 



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