US Indo-Pacific Head Wants Missile Defense System on Guam to Counter China Threat

July 23, 2020 Updated: July 23, 2020

The head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command aims to have an active missile defense system deployed on Guam by 2026 to counter the rising capability of regional rivals.

Adm. Phil Davidson’s top priority is to install an Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system on the Pacific island as part of a concept he calls “Homeland Defense System Guam,” he said in a July 21 call with reporters.

He said the Aegis Ashore system, which is derived from a ship-based system, would work in tandem with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system already deployed on the island to provide a more robust defense capability against China’s growing military threat.

“When you look at the way the threat capacity is manifesting from China in the future. Whether it’s ballistic missiles from the land, or whether it’s ballistic or cruise missiles from air and maritime platforms, you’re going to need a complete clock. A 360-degree coverage in order to help defend Guam,” he said.

“I will say that my No. 1 priority and the most important action we can take to rapidly and fully implement the National Defense Strategy, the first step is a 360-degree persistent and integrated air-defense capability in Guam.”

Lance Gatling, an aerospace and weapons analyst, told the South China Morning Post that the strategic location of Guam makes it a target of choice for regional rivals of the United States in the event of an outbreak of hostilities.

“Guam has long been a key staging point for the U.S., in both naval and air operations, and it was from there that long-range bombers operated against targets during the Vietnam War,” Gatling told the publication. “It is going to become even more important as the U.S. Marines move more of their personnel from Okinawa to Guam.”

For the missile defense system to be in place within the time frame outlined by Davidson, funding must begin in fiscal year 2021, he said on the call.

In April, Breaking Defense reported on details of an unclassified executive summary of a National Defense Authorization Act titled “Regain the Advantage” (pdf) that Davidson submitted to Congress, in which he called for $20 billion in new investments by 2026 to enhance U.S. operational capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Regain the Advantage is designed to persuade potential adversaries that any preemptive military action will be extremely costly and likely fail by projecting credible combat power at the time of crisis, and provides the President and Secretary of Defense with several flexible deterrent options to include full OPLAN [operation plan] execution, if it becomes necessary,” Davidson wrote.

One of the line items, titled “Homeland Defense System – Guam,” calls for $77 million in fiscal year 2021 and $1.594 billion in fiscal years 2022–2026. In the document, Davidson didn’t specify what type of defense infrastructure the system would entail, but in the July 21 remarks to reporters, he made it clear he wants the Aegis system, which is produced by Lockheed Martin.

“The backbone of Homeland Defense System Guam would be the baseline 10 Aegis Ashore system,” Davidson said. “The reason I’m a key advocate for that is first, it is technology that is available to us now and could be delivered by 2026 when I believe that the threat will require us to have a much more robust capability than the combination of THAAD, which is deployed there now and an Aegis ship in response can provide.”

Davidson wrote in the executive summary that the combination of THAAD and Aegis is key to defending what he called America’s “most important operating location in the Western Pacific.”

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