During a recent webcast, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Jon Hill, provided an updated overview on the array of air defenses being deployed to Guam.
The small island, deep in the western Pacific, is a strategically valuable asset. In the event of a war in the Pacific theater, Guam would be an important node for the United States to keep troops fed and armed, ships afloat, and airplanes fueled. The island is, however, highly vulnerable.
"So, if you look at the PB 23 budget submittal, you will see that there's an MDA portion, which is the Ballistic Missile Defense capability and the hypersonic missile defense capability. And then the Army brings in cruise missile defense," Hill explained. "And what's great is both systems kind of have a crossover in what they can do."
"So, the integration of those into a command suite with command and control battle management on top of it, is the basic architecture," Vice Admiral Hill explained.
"So you can think of a number of radars that ensure we meet the requirement, which is persistent 360-degree coverage, right, because of the evolved threat."
One of the more novel approaches to Guam’s defense that has been suggested is permanently placing the U.S. Navy’s aged Ticonderoga-class cruisers around the island. Though the ships are around a half-century old, they offer a robust air defense suite and could help protect the island.
"We have a very good feel for at least technically and operationally where things should go, okay, in order for it to function as a system," Vice Admiral Hill also added.
Mixing and matching some of the United States air defense systems could offer novel solutions to bolster Guam’s defense by mating diverse capabilities onto one system.
"Flying a Patriot missile based on what the THAAD can see, that allows us to now see new threats and use up the full kinematic expanse of the Patriot — not have it limited to a shorter range radar," Vice Admiral Hill said. "So, now we can take a longer-range radar and go farther with the missile."
The U.S. Army and Marine Corps recently experimented with Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, one of the world’s premiere air defenses, potentially paving the way for Iron Dome’s wider use within the Department of Defense.
"We just finished our second, what we call a sitting summit, last week. My team was out there for a couple of weeks, met with all the major leadership out in Hawaii and on Guam, and then walked every single candidate site that's out there," Vice Admiral Hill explained. "It's not final."
Cognizant of the challenge defending Guam poses, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the Department of Defense are seriously considering how to protect the island.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.