DOD sends Congress classified blueprint for Guam Defense System
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
By Jason Sherman
The Pentagon has outlined for Congress options for a new integrated air and missile defense of Guam in a classified report that marks the latest development in a long-running internal Defense Department debate over the efficacy of such as system, outlining a potential capability that uses elements of the Aegis Ashore as a building block and ties in Army technologies.
The statutorily mandated report details a potential programmatic blueprint for a project U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has identified as the Pacific Defense Initiative's No. 1 unfunded requirement -- a 360-degree defense of the western U.S. territory needed by 2026 to counter advanced Chinese cruise, ballistic and maneuvering hypersonic weapons.
"The 'Architecture Study on the Integrated Air and Missile Defense of Guam' report was submitted to Congress per requirements under Section 1650 of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act on Sept. 17, 2021," said Chris Sherwood, a spokesman for the Pentagon's office of cost assessment and program evaluation, which coordinated the report.
By law, the Pentagon was required only to identify existing deployed land- and sea-based air and missile defense programs of record and sketch a plan for how these might be used as either standalone systems or integrated on Guam by 2025. While the Missile Defense Agency requested $118 million in FY-22 to begin exploring the feasibility of such a project, DOD has not yet publicly announced a policy decision to proceed with a Guam Defense System.
Still, lawmakers supporting the project are moving to fill Pentagon coffers with funds to rapidly develop and field a Guam Defense System. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week recommended $100 million above the Pentagon's FY-22 proposal of $118 million "to accelerate the development of such key enablers pending selection of a specific material solution for the defense of Guam."
For a number of years, senior Pentagon officials have wrestled with how to address advanced air and missile defense vulnerabilities forecasted on Guam in the middle of this decade; former INDOPACOM Commander Adm. Phil Davidson advocated for a Guam Defense System for three years before retiring this spring. He specifically called for building such a capability around the most advanced planned version of the Aegis missile defense system armed with Standard Missile-3 and -6 interceptors.
"The critical metric of success is the ability to shrink the decision-to-execution cycle for U.S. forces fighting inside -- or close to -- the enemy's traditional safe havens, thus improving the joint force's survivability," Davidson told lawmakers in March.
The proposal for a Guam Defense System has been challenged by senior Pentagon officials -- including, sources say, CAPE, giving shape to a running philosophical debate over how to allocate risk and the value of defending Guam. Some DOD officials believe major investments west of the international date line are likely to be quickly destroyed by China in a war. An Aegis Ashore-like system -- a fixed target that with a full load of interceptors could cost as much as $3 billion -- is not a cost-effective way to defend Guam in the event of a large Chinese missile raid, they argue.
These officials have advocated exploring a road-mobile, air defense system -- a project that is not currently part of the Pentagon's research and development portfolio.
"Any recommendations for additional studies, including a requirement for only mobile systems, disregard the immediacy and complexity of the (2026) threat and the absolute need to integrate fires across the region from a forward multidomain command and control node west of the international dateline," Davidson warned Congress in written testimony in March.
One source who has read the new report said of the architecture studies: "It significantly bolstered the case that we're doing this."
The Missile Defense Agency, along with the Army and Navy, previously evaluated the Aegis Ashore system for potential U.S. homeland defense and identified four desirable locations in the Indo-Pacific region: Guam, a Hawaii test range and two spots in Japan.
The Guam architecture study report comes as the Pentagon is conducting a missile defense review and, separately, the Joint Staff is overseeing an integration air- and missile-defense study to identify capability gaps across the force.
"The Biden administration has a tremendous opportunity here to adapt air and missile defense efforts to the strategic competition with the likes of China, which is after all the central challenge of our time," said Tom Karako, a missile defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The defense of Guam can be a sandbox for air and missile defense, but it can also be an operational testbed for the full suite of multidomain strike, the poster child for a comprehensive, holistic approach to missile defeat."
In June, MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill said Guam's complex topology doesn't lend itself to a replica of the land-based Aegis systems in operation in Romania and planned for Poland -- noting MDA has a range of options that adopt existing sensors, command and control, and interceptors and tie them together into a "hybrid system" in a unique way.
The MDA chief said any new Guam system will need sensors, a fire-control system and communications network as well as weapons.
"So, let's go build a story around that and then we'll figure out what those systems are, because I'm getting a lot of . . . the early question: 'Who's going to be the lead service?' I really don't know at this point because we're not there yet. We need to come through that architecture work, we need to make a decision that hits [INDOPACOM's FY26] timeline and that draws you into a capabilities-based approach."
A recent project focused on South Korea underscores the complexity of integrating weapons that were not originally designed to be interoperable.
In FY17, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea asked MDA to quickly integrate two existing Army technologies in response to North Korean missile improvements. It has taken MDA nearly five years to deliver on that request, with a final test to integrate Patriot and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system slated for this fiscal year.
MDA's FY22 budget request called for a "Joint Track Management Capabilities Bridge Development" effort between the Army's IAMD Battle Command System (IBCS), the Aegis Weapon System and the Command and Control Battle Management and Communications system "to promote greater integration between Army and Navy assets.”
In July, MDA teamed with the Army to demonstrate this "bridge" technology in a flight test that Hill hailed as "a huge step toward joint interoperability."
The MDA-developed prototype -- along with a capability called Open Systems Gateway -- linked multiple sensor and fire-control systems from several services into one integrated network that successfully shot down a cruise missile target while under electronic attack from a second target missile. MDA claims this new "bridge" allows any two different tracking and integrated fire-control networks to work together.
MDA's FY22 plans for a Guam system also include an "acceleration of sea-based terminal" capabilities, which appear to mean efforts to make the Standard Missile-6 more effective against advanced threats.
In March, Davidson told Congress that while Army and Air Force projects show potential for a Guam Defense System, neither are ready to meet the need for a capability by 2026.
"The Army's Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) and the Air Force's Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) are not yet fully developed and do not currently enable joint interdependencies or satisfy the requirement to integrate fires across domains, services, or weapon platforms," the now-retired four-star said.
In 2009, the Obama administration responded to evolving Iranian ballistic missile threats as well as new opportunities from advancements in missile defense technology by promulgating a new policy for missile defense of Europe called the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the basis for creating land-based Aegis systems in Romania and Poland.
"The Obama administration had the Phased Adaptive Approach," Karako said. "Integrated air and missile defense for INDOPACOM holds the potential to be this administration's equivalent, with 360-degree defense of Guam as its centerpiece."
Advocates for a Guam defense system argue such a system doesn't need to be fully designed and executed like a traditional major defense acquisition program but can be rolled out in blocks of incremental capability and expanded upon as needed.
"Key criteria for the architecture include proven reliability and maturity, interoperability with combined U.S. and allied Aegis forces afloat, multimission AMD capability for full threat spectrum -- including hypersonic defense," said Karako. "There is goodness to an Aegis-centric approach, supplemented by other services' systems, sensors, and effectors, from Patriot to THAAD, Sentinel to LTAMDS, IFPC to IBCS." (Republished with permission from Inside Defense) Jason Sherman is a reporter for Inside Defense.)