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Defense expert says Guam needs urgent attention

Updated: Feb 7

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Amid a turbulent era of global chaos, geopolitical tensions escalate in the Indo-Pacific region where strategic posturing intensifies. While wrestling with the dilemma over the complex relationship between China and Taiwan, the U.S. is clear on its intention to defend Taipei should the People's Liberation Army invade what Beijing considers a renegade province. And Guam will be the U.S. military’s launchpad.

At the onset of any conflict with the U.S., China will try to neutralize Guam “with an overwhelming missile barrage” by destroying the military infrastructure on the island, according to Robert Peters, a research fellow for Nuclear Deterrence and Missile Defense in Heritage’s Allison Center for National Security.


“This attack would not only be a modern Pearl Harbor but also a scenario in which the attacker destroys the logistics infrastructure that enabled the U.S. to eventually prevail in the Pacific War of the 1940s,” Peters warned.

The U.S. does not have the luxury of time, so Guam’s defenses demand urgent attention, Peters said.

“As such, Congress should appropriate the resources required to protect Guam in the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, while long-range plans for a complete missile defense for the island go into place,” Peters wrote in a report released by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Peters took the Defense Department to task for not doing enough to shore up Guam’s defense in the interim amid the growing missile threats from China.


“Put another way, China is putting an enormous amount of resources into holding American and allied bases at risk, using conventional and possibly even nuclear weapons,” Peters said,. “At the same time, American progress toward fielding a full-spectrum missile defense capability has proceeded too slowly.”

The Missile Defense Agency is moving toward the integration of operations, with the Army having been designated by the Pentagon as the lead service overseeing the acquisition and execution plan for Guam's defense.

The Pentagon is proposing to invest $1 billion to build an integrated air and missile defense architecture on Guam. The system, targeted for completion by 2027, includes multiple mobile components, such as a sensor, command and control, and interceptors that will be located across the island.

“However, these improvements will take time and likely be too late to deter a Chinese aggression that by many accounts could occur before the end of this decade,” Peters said. “Aegis Ashore, a missile defense capability that can track, engage, and destroy mid-course and terminal missile threats, is still years away from deployment on the island of Guam,” he said.

Quoting Rear Adm. Doug Williams, MDA’s acting director, Defense News reported on Dec. 7. 2023, that the agency plans to conduct the first live-fire test of the Guam defense system with the initial capability established on the island at the end of 2024.

At the same time, Defense News reported that the  Army is still working on a detailed strategy for how to build the architecture.

Guam is in the dark as to the details of the missile defense project. MDA has identified 21 sites as possible locations for the mobile elements of the missile defense infrastructure but still struggles to determine the right spots to manage an integrated system.

Last month, Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio urged the U.S. military to disclose more details about the missile defense system being proposed for Guam as part of the Pentagon’s combat readiness in the Indo-Pacific region.

During a meeting with Undersecretary of the Navy Erik Raven in Adelup, Tenorio said he discussed the administration’s “expectation to ensure the safety and security of the people of Guam during these dynamic times. I expressed to him our desire to get details on the missile defense infrastructure and understand the environmental consequences of whatever is planned and executed.”

The public commenting period for MDA’s environmental impact statement related to the missile defense architecture ended on Aug. 1.  “No new information (has been provided) since we are in the formal process for the EIS, but I took the opportunity to raise the concerns since the Navy is the owner of most land,” Tenorio said.

If Guam’s safety and environmental concerns were to be factored into the installation of the missile defense infrastructure, then the execution is likely to face further delays.

But Peters recommended “an immediate way to mitigate, if not obviate, the missile threat to Guam” pending completion of the missile defense infrastructure.

He suggested, for example, that the Department of Defense assign an Aegis afloat capability to Guam until permanent, robust missile defenses are put in place.

“This repurposed vessel, likely an older destroyer or cruiser, would serve in a reduced operational status to provide a weapons and sensor platform for defending Guam today, while also serving as a testbed for follow-on defense systems currently being contemplated,” Peters said.


“Notably, an Aegis Afloat vessel or vessels would perform much of the missile defense command-and-control integration in the immediate term, before the MDA’s broader, advanced command-and-control and battle-management architecture is in place in the out years," he added.

Peters also recommended the deployment of an adequate counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar capability to Guam to provide added defenses against cruise missile threats. “Such systems have been used effectively in overseas forward operating bases and are well-suited to defend against cruise missile threats,” he said. “They would be an effective augmentation for PAC-3s when it comes to smaller enemy aircraft or sea-skimming cruise missiles and drones.”

Peters also urged the defense department to “continue apace with the MDA’s sequenced approach that integrates Patriot point defenses and THAAD, with the ultimate goal of the MDA providing a 360-degree missile defense capability on Guam.”

“A $100 million cost is significant, but the defense of Guam is imperative due to the fact that it is American soil and is the lynchpin of America’s ability to project power in the Western Pacific. Congress should appropriate the resources required to protect Guam in 2025,” Peters concluded.


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