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Calls grow urgent for improving Guam’s missile defenses

A set of three Army Patriot missile launchers stand ready to defend the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing against airborne threats at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson/U.S. Air Force)

The tiny U.S. territory of Guam would play an outsized role in a U.S. war in the Pacific—and that’s why the Pentagon must urgently improve the island’s missile defenses, current and former military officials said Tuesday.

“The reality is we have to defend Andersen [Air Force Base], the submarine base, and more broadly Guam, and that investment is clearly called for in this year’s” National Defense Authorization Act, Mark Montgomery, a retired rear admiral and former director of operations for U.S. Pacific Command, said at a Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance livestream event. “I tell you who’s not delaying in their development of capabilities and capacity: that’s the Chinese. And every year we delay makes the problem harder and the solution more expensive. So, we really need to get on that this year.”

Creating a comprehensive missile defense for Guam has been U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s top funding priority for nearly four years, said Marine Lt. Gen. Stephen Sklenka, the command’s No. 2 officer.

“The past two successive commanders have gone on the record to state this. And they’ve warned all that will listen, that the threat to Guam will only increase over the next five years,” Sklenka said. “Those aren’t idle threats. Those are based off of events that we’re seeing unfold around us right now.”

The rapid pace of China’s hypersonic technology development has only made the need more urgent, he said.

Guam, located about 1,500 miles from Japan and within the Second Island Chain of countries in the Pacific, is important for command and control as well as logistics to project forces and equipment, Sklenka said.

“Guam is a place where our combat power will aggregate and congregate and for which it will emanate. And from there we send a powerful strategic message to our allies and our adversaries that the United States is invested in this region, we prioritize the Indo Pacific,” he said.

DoD is planning more than $11 billion in construction to improve Guam’s defenses, he said. The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by the House Tuesday and now heading to the Senate, includes more funding for Guam’s integrated air and missile defense system.

What that system will look like, and which agency or service will take the lead on providing it, is still being determined.

“We require land-based persistent 360-degree system. There’s no getting around that,” Sklenka said. “The Guam defense system’s got to be an architecture that fuses the most capable integrated air and missile defense programs of record today and those that they’re developing into the future.”

That rules out the Iron Dome anti-missile system developed and used by Israel, according to Adm. John Aquilino, who leads Indo-Pacific Command.

The 2022 NDAA calls for this 360-degree integrated air and missile defense system to be fielded in the next 10 years. It also wants the military to use existing missile defense systems, including the Navy’s Aegis, Patriot missiles system, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense in the next five years to speed up the system’s development Congress wants the missile defense architecture with these existing programs to reach initial operating capability in 2025.

Congress has asked the Missile Defense Agency to develop the architecture and acquisition strategy for implementing Guam’s missile defense system in the 2022 NDAA.

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