MDA chief cites 'siting challenges' for Guam missile defense project
Updated: Aug 19
Hill says hospital is not compatible with a radar system built on the same site
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Finding the right locations to build the elements of missile defense infrastructure on Guam is more challenging than anticipated, a defense official said, citing a conflict involving the siting of a radar system adjacent to a proposed hospital.
“There’s a laundry list of lessons learned from assumptions you make before you ever get to the decision, and then reality hits when you’re on the ground, like, this will be tough,” Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said during a webcast hosted by Defense News on Aug. 12.
The Indo-Pacific Command's proposed air defense missile, which is touted to provide 360-degree protection to deter any potential threats to Guam, consists of multiple mobile components, such as a sensor, command and control and interceptors that will be located across the island.
The $1 billion undertaking is targeted to be completed by 2026 or 2028.
Hill said the MDA recently finished a siting summit, where the agency discussed the findings of a team that surveyed each site on Guam that has been proposed as a location for components of the missile defense architecture.
"It's not final, but we have a very good feel for at least technically and operationally where things should go in order for it to function as a system," he said.
“It’s a very constrained space—we know that to be a fact. We know the siting requirement on the sensors that we will need. We know where we can and can’t put live ordnance; that’s always a constraining factor.”
Hill said the planning process takes into consideration the danger of explosive arcs and the radar’s electromagnetic interference.
One of the sticking points is the incompatibility between a radar and a hospital to be located next to each other on a defense-owned property in Mangilao.
The government of Guam has identified the old football field known as Eagle’s Field as a potential site for the proposed medical and health care complex that will integrate a hospital facility with the Department of Public Health and Human Services, the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, a veterans’ clinic and a public health lab.
“You have a radar on this side and a hospital on the other side. Is it OK to put radar energy where you bring medivac helicopters? The answer is ‘no,” Hill said.
“We have to resolve those sort of things,” the vice admiral said.
Hill said he is negotiating with Gov Lou Leon Guerrero to promptly sort out the barriers, noting that the defense of Guam and countering the threat posed by hypersonic missiles are top priorities for the Department of Defense.
The proposed site for the hospital, which is a 102-acre property, is being leased by the Navy to the local government.
"That property has already been pledged to us," the governor said in a brief interview with Pacific Island Times.
Leon Guerrero said she was aware of the site assessments being made on the location and the potential conflict that may arise from having the radar and hospital next to each other.
"There were rumors that MDA was looking at Eagle's Field as one of the potential sites for the radar but when I spoke to Vice Adm. Hill, he assured me that they are not going to be using Eagle's Field for the radar," she said.
Given the escalating tension between China and Taiwan, Hill said the "threat is evolving and will become more complex over time."
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Hill said the MDA is working with the Army on the initial steps to carry out the project. “We haven't started yet," he said. "We still have a long way to go."
The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2023 lays down the basic architecture of the systems that will be built on Guam.
"The department did fund us at a level that allows us to start environmental impact surveys. That allows us to do the siting work,” Hill said.
He said the MDA has funding for both ballistic missile defense capability and hypersonic missile defense capability, while the Army has funding for cruise missile defense.
"What's great is both systems kind of have a crossover in what they can do," Hill said. "And so the integration of those into a command suite with command-and-control battle management on top of it is the basic architecture."
The NDAA 2023, which proposes a budget of $817 billion for the Pentagon, earmarks $1 billion for integrated air and missile defense architecture being planned for Guam.