Navy Adm. John Aquilino, who has been tapped to lead the Indo-Pacific Command, said getting the Aegis Ashore missile defense system on Guam would be his priority, backing the position of Adm. Phillip Davidson, who will retire this year.
“Global peace and prosperity depend on our presence in the Indo-Pacific,” Aquilino told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing Tuesday.
According to the military news agency Breaking Defense, the Pentagon is pushing to get the Aegis request in the 2022 defense budget.
Aquilino, who has been nominated by President Joe Biden to succeed Davidson, said there is an urgent need to defend the Indo-Pacific region against China's persistent missile threats from a 360-degree standpoint.
“The Chinese are increasing their capability and capacity, and closing that gap," he told the committee. "We've seen aggressive actions earlier than we anticipated, whether it be on the Indian border or whether it be in Hong Kong or whether it be against the Uyghurs.”
The request for Aegis installation on Guam is a component of Davidson's Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a five-year, $27 billion proposal, submitted to the U.S. Congress earlier this month.
Aquilino described the initiative as "the foundational approach to advancing capabilities and capacity in lethality, force design and posture, logistics, exercises and experimentation, while strengthening our allies and partnerships for an integrated joint force west of the international date line.”
The plan reportedly calls for $4.6 billion in 2022. Breaking Defense reported that "lawmakers have appeared so far to support the initiative, though it remains unclear how much money they’ll put toward the project in a year when the budget is expected to remain flat."
Overall, the initiative proposes $350 million in 2022 for the Guam Defense System, as part of a $1.3 billion effort by 2027.
Another component of this initiative is a $197 million tactical multi-mission over-the-horizon radar for Palau. The proposed radar system is aimed at spotting air and surface targets.
During a recent virtual forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, Davidson made the case for building a homeland missile defense system on Guam, which he said would relieve three guided-missile destroyers from missile defense work and make them available for Navy tasking.
“The Guam defense system brings the same ability to protect Guam and the system itself as the three DDGs it would otherwise take to carry out the mission,” Davidson said.
“We need to free up those guided-missile destroyers, who have multi-mission capability to detect threats and finish threats under the sea, on the sea and above the sea, so that they can move with a mobile and maneuverable naval forces that they were designed to protect and provide their ballistic missile defense.”