Evolving Guam defense system against evolving threats
Updated: Apr 5
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
At the center of discussions on the proposed federal budget for fiscal 2024 is “the pacing threat, the pacing challenge of China,” the oft-repeated catchphrases that are driving Washington’s policy decisions and renewed engagement in the Pacific island region.
The Defense Department's $842 billion budget request is fueled by the U.S. military’s raging competition with the communist nation. The number represents a 3.2 percent increase over the current appropriation and is 13.4 percent higher than the fiscal 2022 level.
“This budget will help us continue to implement our National Defense Strategy and the president's National Security Strategy,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 28.
The budget proposal includes $9.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which is 40 percent above the current level. Austin said the requested budget will boost a stronger force posture and better defenses for Hawaii and Guam, and strengthen cooperation with allies and partners there.
While forward-stationing and deploying more forces in the Pacific, Austin told the committee that DoD is also investing in airfields, logistics, domain awareness and resilience in Guam, Japan, Australia, and the sovereign states that are freely associated with the U.S.
In the recently concluded negotiations for the expiring provisions of the Compacts of Free Association, the State Department pledged $7.1 billion in economic assistance to Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
"We're going to remain the strongest military in the world," Austin said.
With the likelihood of China making good on its threat to take over Taiwan, the possibility of a conflict breaking out in the region exposes Guam to a potential attack.
In the face of evolving threats, MDA has mapped out its equally evolving plan for Guam’s defense.
During a press briefing on March 14, Michelle C. Atkinson, MDA's director for operations, said the agency continues the development of a regional hypersonic glide-based defense capability to complement the deployed Aegis sea-based terminal capabilities.
“In conjunction with INDOPACOM, the Army and the Navy, we are continuing development efforts to improve the defense of Guam against the full spectrum of advanced missile threats,” Atkinson said.
MDA’s largest undertaking for Guam is the development of an integrated missile defense architecture, with multiple elements spread over the island.
“Our FY24 request for the defense of Guam is $801 million. Current forces are capable of defending Guam against today's North Korean ballistic missile threats,” Atkinson said. “However, the regional threat to Guam, including those from (People’s Republic of China), continues to rapidly evolve.”
The defense architecture design includes the integration of MDA, Army and Navy systems.
“In FY22 and FY23, we began system architecture work and procurement for the enhanced defense of Guam,” Atkinson said.
Earlier this year, the MDA awarded a half-billion-dollar contract to Lockheed Martin for this project, which is anticipated to be delivered in 2024.
The missile defense system includes complex weapons systems and interceptors to defeat evolving missile threats.
Atkinson said MDA’s budget request includes the development of the AN/TPY-6 radar to provide persistent long-range midcourse discrimination, precision tracking and hit assessment capabilities for long-range missile threats.
Vice Adm. Jon Hill, MDA chief, said the Guam defense system, which will provide 360-degree protection for the island, includes a sensor architecture, command and control, and launchers tied into the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command like the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, currently on the island, as well as Patriot launchers.
“So, we have a mix of launchers on the island. We'll have a vertical launch system and we will have a mobile version of that launcher, just because of the way the island is situated,” Hill said.
In simple terms, Hill said the system is a combination of Aegis and IBCS working together on Guam.
MDA’s $1.6 billion budget request includes Aegis Guam System development and procurement of launch equipment and includes military construction planning and design funding for system siting.
“We will continue to upgrade sensors with software modifications in the Aegis fleet that will further improve AN/SPY-1 sensitivity tracking performance and resource utilization to increase capability and performance against longer range and more sophisticated threats,” Atkinson said.
For now, Hill said his top two challenges for executing the plan are finding the right sites for each piece of equipment and “environmental electromagnetic interference issues.”
“We don’t want to conflict with medevac helicopters coming out of the hospital,” Breaking Defense quoted Hill as saying at the McAleese FY24 defense programs conference. “So, we have to take care of all those things, and we [are] committed to beautifying them. So, we make [the] launchers look beautiful. And we’re gonna put big bubbles over the radars to keep them from looking so lethal, right? The reality is, that’s what it is.”