Growing threats in the region prompt DOD to revisit idle land on Guam for missile defense
Updated: Feb 16, 2022
JRM commander says project requires multiple locations on island
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Department of Defense will need more than one location to build Guam’s missile defense system to provide 360-degree protection all over the island, Rear Adm. Ben Nicholson, commander of Joint Region Marianas, said today.
“The missile defense system can’t be placed in just one location,” Nicholson said at a press conference. “It needs to be in multiple different places and we need to see suitable parts of the island where they can be placed.”
A team from the Missile Defense Agency is currently on Guam scoping potential locations, but Nicholson reiterated that the military is sticking with the lands owned by DOD, specifically those that are currently idle.
“Previously, we have looked at these excess lands and maybe there's a potential we wouldn't need to utilize these in the future, but threats change and things develop, and in our case, there's a real push to put a missile defense system here on Guam, so we need to relook at those areas,” Nicholson said.
Rear Adm. Phillip Davidson, former commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, first proposed the Aegis Ashore missile defense system for Guam two years ago. It was a component of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a five-year $27-billion proposal, submitted to the U.S. Congress last year.
Guam is at the center of the Pentagon's Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at countering threats from China and North Korea.
"Our adversaries throughout the world have continued to build and train their forces, and new threats have emerged, underlining the importance of Guam’s defense," Nicholson wrote in a recent op-ed piece distributed to the local media. "In the past month, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has launched seven missile tests in this region, most recently confirming that they are capable of striking Guam."
"Now that we've been given the green light, we will begin exploring potential sites," Nicholson said at Tuesday's press conference.
Among the locations being explored by the MDA team is the tract of land on Route 15 in Mangilao, adjacent to the area commonly known as “Eagle’s Field,” which is being eyed by the government of Guam as the site of its proposed hospital project.
DOD has given the government of Guam a two-year license to explore the 102-acre area for a feasibility study, Nicholson said.
MDA is looking at an adjacent area where a weather radar is located as a potential site for the missile defense system.
As long they don’t interfere with each other’s operations -- based on engineers' calculations-- the missile defense system and a hospital can co-exist next to each other, Nicholson said.
“It’s not so much the physical location of a building that we're concerned about," Nicholson said, “it is (a matter of making sure that) if you put something over here it doesn't impact things over here.”
Nicholson said the presence of a missile defense system will not automatically shut off the community’s access to the surrounding areas given that the system will be activated only if Guam is attacked. Missile tests will not be a regular routine, he said.
Besides Route 15, the MDA is also looking at about 20 parcels of DOD-owned land by the coast, including an old testing site in the Dandan area.
DOD owns one-third of Guam's land.
“We are not going anywhere else and I just wanted to make that very clear," Nicholson said. “This goes into the original agreement when it came to the Marine Corps relocations here and what it meant and the agreement that we would make sure that the military presence or footprint here land-wise would be no bigger than what it was in 2011.”