The Pentagon is engaged in a crash program to build up missile defenses on Guam based on growing concerns of possible missile attacks from China, the Army general in charge of missile defense for the Indo-Pacific command said Thursday.
Army Maj. Gen. Brian Gibson, head of a missile defense command in Hawaii where Indo-Pacific Command is located, said the strategic Pacific island is considered as part of the U.S. homeland that must be defended from the alarming buildup of military forces by China.
“The PRC is trying to continue to impose their will throughout the [U.S. military area of responsibility] on things they believe they lay claim to,” Gen. Gibson said, using the acronym for People’s Republic of China during an online conference. “The activities and the growth of the PRC alone – my words – remain shocking,” he added.
China is engaged in what Pentagon officials have said in the largest buildup of military forces since World War II, and Gen. Gibson said Beijing appears to be preparing for war based on the weapons systems being deployed. China has been building up its military for the past several decades with investments in missiles, warships and ground forces. Its navy today is larger than the U.S. Navy.
“I don’t know why you create a military means at that magnitude and that level of capability unless you intend to use it,” he said.
A major worry for U.S. strategists is China’s offensive missiles, which can now strike targets farther than Taiwan, including Guam and Hawaii. Chinese military officials have dubbed their DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile as the “Guam killer,” a designation that is driving the Pentagon’s “urgency and speed” to build strong air and missile defense systems on Guam.
Guam is a major military hub located 4,000 miles west of Hawaii and about 1,500 miles from the Philippines at the edge of the Philippine Sea. It is currently host to large missile and bomb storage facilities, Navy warships and submarines, Air Force bombers on temporary rotation and Army missile defenses.
In any conflict with China such as an attack on Taiwan, the island is expected to be targeted by Chinese missiles early in the war.
Gen. Gibson said a Army Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, or THAAD, is deployed on Guam, along with less sophisticated Patriot anti-missile systems. But support for that system was lacking: The single unit on Guam waited nine years before the infrastructure could provide running water for the unit, he said.
The Pentagon has now launched what it called the enhanced integrated air and missile defense system on Guam and made the Army in charge of procuring its components.
Budget requests for the Missile Defense Agency, Army, and Navy for the system on Guam total about $1.5 billion for fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Documents made public by the Missile Defense Agency this week reveal that the system will seek to defend Guam “against the rapidly evolving threats of advanced cruise, ballistic, and hypersonic missile attacks from regional adversaries.”
“The 360-degree capability would be achieved by distributing/placing missile defense components, including a command and control center, radars, sensors, missile launchers, missile interceptors, and support facilities, at multiple locations around the island,” the MDA fact sheet states. “These integrated components would defend against simultaneous air and missile attacks against Guam. The system is expected to start deployment in 2027.”
A map of the deployments shows 20 potential missile defense sensor and interceptor deployment sites located around the island. The centerpiece of the new missile defense system will be the deployment of the Aegis Ashore system adapted from the Navy’s sea-based Aegis missile defense, currently deployed in Romania and planned for Poland.
The Aegis Ashore includes the AN/SPY-1 radar and vertical launch system now deployed on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The interceptors are variants of the SM-3 that can strike long-range missiles in space during the mid-course portion of flight.
The first test of the Guam Aegis Ashore interceptor is set for December. The system will also be capable of firing SM-6 interceptors and a future glide phase interceptor that will be able to attack hypersonic missiles.
Additional THAAD and Patriot batteries also will be deployed, along with Typhon and Enduring Shield systems that will provide layered defenses from different threats. Gen. Gibson said anti-missile lasers could be added to the air and missile defenses in the future.
“Lasers are just another arrow in the quiver” of anti-missile systems, he said.
Former Pentagon policymaker John Rood, speaking at the same conference, said that based on the Chinese missile threats, the Pentagon’s plan for defending Guam are “nowhere near the pace it needs to be at, paced by the relevancy of the threat.”
“The threat from China and the scale of it, the rapidity, the complex nature of the evolution of that threat is something we just can’t lose sight of,” Mr. Rood said.
“And if we were engaged in combat — which could be very shortly down the road based on the trends you’re seeing in the Pacific, we’re not moving fast enough.”
Mr. Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy during the Trump administration, said Guam requires a “full spectrum” of defenses, ranging from anti-hypersonic and anti-ballistic missile systems, to cruise missiles, to unmanned aerial vehicles.
“All will be employed in a conflict by China or others,” he said.
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