Pentagon targets completion of Guam missile defense system by 2026
DOD requests $539 million to deploy more mature technologies to counter evolving threats
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Noting “a very formidable and evolving threat” in the Indo-Pacific region, military officials said the Pentagon is ramping up the development of a missile defense system for Guam with a $539 million budget request for the project targeted for completion by 2026.
“We're going to do everything that we can to meet that timeline,” Vice Admiral Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said in a press conference Tuesday.
He said Guam’s missile defense system sought by the Indo-Pacific Command is a priority for the Department of Defense.
“The requirement from the combatant command is clear. Timeline's clear, which is why we went with the more mature technologies,” Hill said.
Dee Dee Martinez, MDA comptroller, said the $539 million budget request for Guam’s defense system is a component of the DoD’s $9.6 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2023.
“We are continuing efforts to improve the defense of Guam against the full spectrum of advanced regional missile threats,” Martinez said. “This request also continues production and fielding of missile defense capability and production of additional SM-3 Block IB and IIA missiles for the Navy and THAAD interceptors for the Army.”
The defense officials said the planned deployment of missile defense system is aimed at countering hypersonic missiles that pose a new challenge to homeland security.
“These threats can travel at exceptional speeds and unpredictable flight paths,” Martinez said.
She said the budget request also includes funding to continue testing of THAAD and Patriot interoperability, to improve the overall missile defense capability, and increase the defended area.
“Current forces are capable of defending Guam against today's North Korean ballistic missile threats. However, the regional threat to Guam, including from China continues to rapidly evolve,” Martinez said. “As always, we are looking to develop new technologies to keep pace with the threat.”
The 2022 National Defense Appropriations Act provides $272,750 to commence research, development, test and evaluation, plus $40,000 for procurement.
“The architecture has now been finalized and includes a combination of integrated MDA, Army, and Navy components,” Martinez said.
The $539 million requested for 2023 will fund the continuation of the architecture work, the design and development of multiple land-based radar systems and the procurement of weapon system components.
“I'm not talking a lot about new things here today. We're going to leverage what we have with Aegis fire control, what we have with (Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System), where we are with SM-3 missiles, SM-6, sea-based terminal, and then Patriot. So, I think we're on a good path," Hill said.
“What we're focused on today is dealing with a very formidable and evolving threat,” he added. “Every penny that we're spending in the '23 budget is focused on how we deal with those threats across a multitude of interesting scenarios," he added.
An MDA team that recently visited Guam has completed the scoping of potential sites for an integrated missile defense system. In a press briefing last month, Rear Adm. Ben Nicholson, commander of the Joint Region Marianas, said MDA will need more than one site for the infrastructure.
Guam’s integrated missile defense system will involve the Army and the Navy.
“The architecture on Guam will be a mix of those systems. So think of that as MDA systems, Army systems and Navy systems,” Hill said. “It will not be an Aegis Ashore. Think of it as a distributed system because we're going to respond to the number one requirement of 360-degree coverage against ballistic crews and hypersonic threats.”
One of the several areas surveyed by the team was a parcel of land in Mangilao.
“When I think about the level of difficulty, it will be Guam,” Hill said. “You probably know that there's a small percentage of the land that is available for us to land this capability, so we're going to stay very close to the Joint Regional Command there for land allocations and siting.”
Hill said the island’s topology can be quite challenging. “It is a tough place,” he said. “An Aegis Ashore site is limited in what it can do because of the rise and the fall of the hills. And you got radar. It's not a flat earth, and it's certainly not flat on Guam.”
Hill said additional details will be known once MDA completes the rest of the architectural work, the actual footprint and site selections.
”That is the work in front of us. And so I can't say date certain we're going to hit that timeline, but I can say we're pointing to it, and we've got everything aligned to get there,” Hill said.