Setbacks in missile defense of Guam not reassuring for the island

DEFENSE: A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile interceptor similar to those deployed to Guam is launched in Alaska in this undated photo. Courtesy of the Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency.  

It has been made clear from previous military and defense analysts' reports that Guam could be the target of a missile attack.

We all hope this won't happen but at the same time, we Guamanians need to know that we are adequately protected by a comprehensive missile defense system.

The risk of a potential missile strike toward Guam became international news when North Korea specifically mentioned Guam. This led to the rotational deployment to Guam of the truck-mounted Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system to the island in April 2013.

But North Korea was last decade's threat.

China's advances in the development of missiles have become more of an issue.

Military officials have, in the last few years, indicated that Guam faces the risk of being in the crosshairs in the event of missiles being launched from China at U.S. military bases.

"The defense of Guam" is one of the priorities this year for the U.S. military's Indo-Pacific Command, said Adm. Phil Davidson in March, when he was head of the command, in testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

Davidson said China is a threat to Guam now – as shown by Chinese submarines "circumnavigating" Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in recent years.

He also pointed out Chinese military propaganda released about a year ago that showed Andersen Air Force Base as a potential target. 

"Guam is a target today. It needs to be defended and it needs to be prepared for the threats that will come in the future because it is clear to me that Guam is not just a place that we believe that we could fight from – as we have for many decades. We're going to have to fight for it."

In the Senate committee hearing, Davidson was trying to make the case for a comprehensive missile defense system that protects Guam more effectively from the air, land and sea. He's advocating for the Aegis Ashore system which has a price tag of $1.6 billion.

Davidson relinquished leadership of the Hawaii-based Indo-Pacific Command to Adm. John Aquilino the following month.
 
The need for a comprehensive strategy to protect Guam from a potential missile strike should be a priority – or we hope it will be – in light of the rapidly developing military capabilities of China.
 
According to a Rand Corp. report in 2017, China's People's Liberation Army had only a handful of missiles in 2003 and those did not have the capability to reach Kadena Air Base in Japan or Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. By 2017, China had developed thousands of missiles capable of striking Kadena, and hundreds of missiles with a range that could reach Guam, according to Rand.
 
The issue of missile defense for Guam has come up in public again in a not reassuring way for all of us 160,000 people who live here.
 
Instead of providing full financial support for a safer Guam, the U.S. House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee shaved off the Missile Defense Agency's $78 million request in the fiscal 2022 defense spending bill by nearly $16 million due to “unjustified growth,” reporter Jen Judson writes in Defense News, in a story published Wednesday.
 
The lack of a more detailed spending plan for Guam missile defense seems to be part of the problem.
 
“While supportive of the defense of Guam from ballistic, hypersonic, and cruise missile threats, the Committee notes that the report on the defense of Guam from integrated air and missile threats, required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, has not yet been submitted to the congressional defense committees,” Defense News reported, citing House Appropriations Committee notes.
 
“Additionally, the lack of detailed information on the budget request, especially the request for $40,000,000 in procurement, is troubling. Therefore, the Committee has denied funding for procurement and reduced the amount recommended for research, development, test and evaluation until the (Department of Defense) submits the required report and adequate budgetary information for the Committee to make informed funding decisions on these efforts.”
 
Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill acknowledged in a House Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing last month that he had promised a report to Congress by June, Defense News reported. “But given the complexity of it, that’s going to take us a little bit longer to get there,” Defense News quoted the director.
 
That's not reassuring for Guam.
 
We hope the Department of Defense's actions, including the submission of the required report to Congress, and the approvals by lawmakers, won't be too little and too late.
 
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