By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD battery will be relocated from its current site at Andersen Air Force Base to an old Navy housing area in South Finegayen, Rear Adm. Ben Nicholson, commander of the Joint Region Marianas, announced Monday.
While acknowledging that moving the THAAD system closer to the civilian population is likely to pose discomfort and trigger anxiety, Nicholson sought to assuage the community's concerns.
“People might ask, 'does that make the population more of a target?' Think of it this way: just because you lock your car does not necessarily mean that it’s more or less likely to be hit by a hailstorm," the JRM chief said.
“In this case, the weapons that the enemy would potentially use against Guam are not discriminatory enough to pick out necessarily this airfield from the THAAD site to the civilian area," Nicholson said.
He said the THAAD system has a very broad operational capacity to defend the entire island.
"It covered the island from where it was and it covers the entire island at the location where we are moving it to," Nicholson said.
Nicholson advised the community "not to be alarmed" by the movement of the equipment. “Anything that we do in the coming weeks is not necessarily tied to anything a particular bad actor or adversary in the region has done,” he said.
The THAAD relocation, he said, is part of the process of "calculation, experimentation and engineering assessment" to “figure out a better way we can use what we have now.”
Nicholson said optimizing the THAAD's capacity will beef up the military’s defense of Guam pending installation of the proposed 360-degree missile defense system, which is targeted for completion by 2026.
“We've determined that if we move it to a different location we can actually increase the capacity that the system provides for the defense of Guam,” Nicholson said, stressing that the THAAD's transfer will be confined within the properties owned by the Department of Defense.
“I am not going to tell you what exactly those increases are because I don’t want to give something to the adversary that would say exactly what we’re tweaking. But I can tell you that just a small movement of that system will make it more effective," Nicholson said.
THAAD consists of a command-and-control center, radar array and interceptor launchers, which the Army has been operating from AAFB since 2013 when it came to Guam.
In March, the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command wrapped up Operation Talon Lightning, the first exercise to remotely operate a THAAD launcher in Rota.
The selected relocation area was the former site of the expeditionary medical facility that accommodated the recovery of sailors from the Covid-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2020.
“That’s all gone now. It’s an open area but there is still infrastructure there such as the existing road and cul de sacs,” Nicholson said, “It’s super important that when we relocate, we do not have to do much to prepare the area to receive the system. That's what makes it attractive.”
Since THAAD is a mobile system, Nicholson said, it will not require construction or permanent installation and therefore will not impact the surrounding environment.
"Being closer to anyone does not increase any risk there. Where we intend to set it up on a DOD property has no impact on the area around that," Nicholson said. "I know there is a popular hiking trail there and it will be open."
The THAAD relocation plan was coordinated with the Guam National Guard, the mayor of Dededo and the government of Guam, Nicholson said.