Guam vs. China: how Washington will protect a Pacific Island

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This post was published in Gazeta.ru. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The United States is discussing the possibility of deploying the Aegis Ashore air defense / missile defense system installed in Japan on the island of Guam. At the same time, Tokyo has recently abandoned the use of this system, questioning its effectiveness.

As the American media write, Washington needs to learn from Japan’s decision in organizing anti-aircraft and missile defense of strategically important United States installations in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in general.

Last week, the head of the Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces, Admiral Phil Davidson, said that his first priority is to deploy the Aegis Ashore air defense / missile defense system on Guam by 2026. New means of air / missile defense, in his opinion, will help protect the facilities of the Armed Forces and US citizens in the archipelago.

But, as it turned out, the Japanese government considers the Aegis Ashore system not the best option for protecting military and its civilian facilities from the ever-growing missile threats from China and North Korea. Gazeta.Ru previously wrote about the possible deployment of Aegis Ashore in Japan.

Guam is of key military strategic importance to the United States and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region. The Andersen and Apra Air Force and Navy bases on the island are currently out of range of numerous short-range missiles from China and North Korea.

At the same time, Guam’s geographic location allows it to effectively support air and naval operations in the Philippine, South and East China Seas.

Although the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile system battery currently deployed on the island of Guam can protect US facilities from certain types of ballistic missiles, its only AN / TPY-2 radar, according to Defense News, is vulnerable, and cannot provide air defense / missile defense in 360-degree coverage.

In addition, THAAD is designed to combat targets at high altitudes and is ineffective for hitting aircraft and cruise missiles at low and extremely low altitudes, which can be used by the Chinese military against targets in Guam. The island needs a new air / missile defense architecture, Defense News concludes.

The Aegis Ashore air defense / missile defense system has high tactical and technical characteristics, but at the same time it has its own limitations. Designed primarily to deal with a limited number of enemy ballistic missiles, its stationary radar and a similar launch position for antimissiles are vulnerable to attacks from a potential enemy. According to Defense News,

Aegis Ashore will not withstand a possible massive missile and air strike by the People’s Liberation Army of China and the DPRK Armed Forces.

Rather than deploying one or more Aegis Ashore systems to Guam, a more effective air and missile defense architecture should combine the latest Aegis Combat system with “a disaggregated system of existing sensors, effectors and command and control nodes,” writes Defense News.

The distributed architecture of the air defense / missile defense, according to the publication, should also be scalable, allowing air and missile defense to protect US military and civilian facilities deployed in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Guam’s geography allows for effective air defense / missile defense at greater distances than is possible from a single US Navy ship or a single Aegis Ashore launch site.

Stationary, transported and mobile means of radio-technical troops and air defense / missile defense systems should be located along the entire perimeter of the island.

These include, in particular, compact versions of the AN / SPY-6 radar (a new highly effective radar for air and missile defense developed by Raytheon Corporation), other air and missile defense radars for detecting enemy air targets at low and extremely low altitudes, passive radar systems, and electro-optical / infrared sensors on unmanned aerial vehicles and stratospheric balloons to monitor threats from beyond the radio horizon.

This mixed air defense / missile defense architecture will provide more effective countermeasures to a potential enemy’s air attack and will be much more difficult to disable than one or two stationary launch positions of the Aegis Ashore system.

To effectively engage enemy missiles and aircraft, a promising air defense / missile defense architecture must have long-range container-type mobile launchers, such as the SM-6 and SM-3, rather than Aegis Ashore stationary vertical launchers.

They can be supplemented with medium and short-range air defense / missile defense systems such as the Patriot air defense missile system or the planned to be adopted by the US Army of the system of protection against fire, which the enemy leads from closed positions (Indirect Fire Protection Capability).

An integrated air defense system can also include such non-kinetic defenses as powerful microwave weapons and electronic warfare systems that are capable of disrupting the enemy’s combat mission.

Today, US Navy destroyers patrol the waters around Guam to provide effective missile defense in addition to the capabilities of the THAAD missile defense system.

In a crisis or conflict, a promising air defense / missile defense architecture could provide more effective protection against a potential enemy’s air attack, Defense News believes.

In developing the Indo-Pacific Command’s forward-looking plans for the deployment of new air defenses for Guam, lessons should also be learned from the interrupted Japanese Aegis Ashore deployment program, Defense News said.

The option with the adoption of two stationary missile defense systems Aegis Ashore in Tokyo was considered insufficiently effective to protect the Japanese islands from possible missile attacks from restless neighbors.

Admiral Phil Davidson’s goals to modernize Guam’s air defense / missile defense by 2026 face similar risks. According to Defense News, the air and missile defense of Guam can theoretically be effective, implemented in a short time and inexpensive in cost, but it cannot have all three of these advantages at once.

If 2026 is considered a hard time limit for this program, then the only solution that can meet this schedule and requirements may be the familiar and ineffective fixed architecture of Aegis Ashore.

Compared to one or two Aegis Ashore launch sites, Guam’s distributed air / missile defense architecture may take slightly longer to develop and finance to implement.

But a phased approach will lead to the introduction of new systems. As funding becomes available, this will expand the system’s capabilities to counter the growing missile threats.

For example, AN / SPY-6 radars, Command and Control (C2) and a combination of THAAD-Patriot-NASAMS anti-aircraft missile systems will significantly increase the effectiveness of the anti-missile / air defense of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in general.

Recall, NASAMS is a mobile anti-aircraft missile system developed by the Norwegian company Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace together with the American corporation Raytheon, designed to combat maneuvering aerodynamic targets at low and medium altitudes.

Guam and the rest of the Northern Mariana Islands are of major military-strategic importance for the United States for conducting operations and military operations in the western Pacific Ocean. According to Defense News, their air defense / missile defense has long been ignored, and Admiral Davidson should take credit for the planned modernization path.

Moreover, the currently disaggregated air defense / missile defense architecture will be more likely to advance the Indo-Pacific Command’s aspirations for effective and scalable air and missile defense of these islands.

As Gazeta.Ru previously reported, the command of the US armed forces in the Indo-China region requested $ 20 billion to contain China.

The list of wishes includes the creation of a new ring of defense on the island of Guam, an increase in funding for allies in the region and the replenishment of the arsenal of long-range weapons.

Recently, the United States has lost its military superiority in the Pacific and the ability to maintain a favorable balance of power in the region. This conclusion was reached by experts from the US Research Center from the University of Sydney. According to experts, the tough budget savings and 20 years of almost continuous hostilities are to blame.

Therefore, the current US national defense strategy is aimed at overcoming this crisis of strategic insolvency. It challenges the Joint Pacific Command forces to prepare for one war between the great powers, rather than several smaller conflicts, and calls on the military to prioritize demands to contain China.

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