The U.S. Army is deploying Iron Dome Defense Systems around Andersen Air Force Base in Guam this week to test their viability as an added cruise missile defense system. The tests come as China has increasingly tested missiles that could strike Guam from the Chinese mainland.
The Iron Dome deployment is part of a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), requiring the systems to be deployed to an operational theater by 2021. In a Thursday Facebook post, the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command said, “Soldiers and equipment from the 2-43 Air Defense Artillery Battalion from Fort Bliss, Texas will deploy in order to fulfill those NDAA requirements, test the capabilities of the system, and further train and refine the deployment capabilities of air defenders.”
The 94th Army Air And Missile Defense Command said “there is currently no plan to conduct a live fire of the system while it is on Guam.”
According to Defense News, the Army purchased the Iron Dome missile defense systems as an interim solution for cruise missile defenses.
This latest Iron Dome deployment will supplement the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, which have been deployed on Guam since 2013 and are designed to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles.
The tests come as China has increasingly developed weapons capable of reaching Guam. Last summer, China tested a number of its weapons systems in the South China Sea potentially including its DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile, The DF-26 has been labeled the “Guam killer” because it is the first conventionally armed ballistic missile China has developed capable of reaching the U.S. territory.
China has pursued a military strategy known as Anti-Access, Area Denial (A2/AD), which seeks to allow China to assert control over disputed regions of the western Pacific while making those regions inaccessible to outside forces like the U.S.
Guam has strategic significance to the U.S. in a potential conflict with China, as it could be used as a base of operations to counter Chinese moves in the Philippine and South China Seas. Guam’s strategic significance also makes it an important target for China in a potential future conflict; a point highlighted to Chinese state-run media’s own references to the DF-26 as a “Guam Killer” missile and a 2020 Chinese military recruitment ad depicting the bombing of the island.
In March, U.S. Navy Adml. Philip Davidson, then the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), said Guam needs more defensive systems. Davidson said protecting the island is critical “because it prevents a cheap shot” by China, Business Insider reported.
The Iron Dome system, which was co-developed by the U.S. and Israel through Raytheon and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, has seen frequent use in Israel in recent years. The systems have been used to shoot down rockets fired from Gaza. The systems saw frequent usage in May, when Hamas fired hundreds of rockets towards Israel.