The Pentagon Learns From Russia’s Struggles as It Preps for the Indo-Pacific

May 23, 2022 Topic: Russia Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: PentagonIndo-PacificRussia-Ukraine CrisisGuamWeapons

The Pentagon Learns From Russia’s Struggles as It Preps for the Indo-Pacific

The lessons learned from Russia’s experience have broad applicability to the Indo-Pacific region, especially in light of the theater’s extreme distances.

Some of Russia’s most advanced—and theoretically most capable—weapons are not performing well in Ukraine, U.S. Northern Command chief Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck explained to lawmakers last week.

Russia’s hypersonic weapons have “had challenges with some of their hypersonic missiles as far as accuracy,” VanHerck said, highlighting some of Moscow’s struggles in this conflict.

“I will tell you, originally, we thought they weren’t working at a rate that was as good as ours. But what I would say is, they’re on par with our capabilities, not all of them, specifically their cruise missiles,” he added.

The lessons learned from Russia’s experience have broad applicability to the Indo-Pacific region—especially in light of the theater’s extreme distances—and long-range stand-off fires are expected to play a significant role in a future fight against a peer Chinese threat.

Guam, the small American island deep in the Pacific, would play a vital role in a potential Pacific conflict. The tiny speck of land is one of the United States’ most significant and westernmost bastions, but it is also a significant refueling and rearming point for Navy ships plying those western waters.

The Pentagon is thinking about Guam and leveraging “mature systems,” Vice Adm. John Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency, explained, adding that one of the U.S. Navy’s Aegis air defense destroyers would augment Guam’s air defenses.

Though Guam already hosts Patriot and THAAD air defense systems, Guam’s rocky and relatively mountainous terrain could adversely affect the protection they offer.

Hill explained that one solution could be mobile, distributed launchers, saying that “you will see a heavy interest in … mobile launchers, so when we talk about distributed systems, it is about being as mobile as possible, so you’re going to see a distributed system that is mobile.”

Guam’s defense architecture will mix several Department of Defense systems. Hill said, “Think of [Guam’s defense] as MDA systems, Army systems, and Navy systems. It will not be an Aegis Ashore. Think of it as a distributed system because we do—we’re going to respond to the number one requirement of 360-degree coverage against ballistic, cruise and hypersonic threats.”

Hill also explained that he thinks “what we do on Guam will inform what we do for cruise missile defense of the homeland. For example, we are using existing sensor technology. We’re going to tie in through command-and-control battle management into space assets and other sensing capability.”

Russia’s early stumbles in Ukraine are a boon to America’s wargaming and preparations for an Indo-Pacific conflict. In addition to a robust air defense capability, the United States will prioritize getting hypersonic weapons right.

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.

Image: Reuters.