Can the Pentagon Protect Guam’s Strategic Fortress?


The Pentagon and US Marine Corps are taking new steps to ensure the island of Guam is effectively protected from incoming ballistic missiles, amphibious assaults, and other types of attacks that enemies might launch.

During a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, senior lawmakers raised concerns about Guam’s security, in part due to an increase in the number of Marines stationed there. When asked about this by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger strongly agreed, saying, “We have to make sure Guam is protected.”

Land-centric ways to station, launch, and deploy assets for maritime security missions can pose challenges for operational commanders in the Pacific given the region’s vast waterways. Of course, the United States can ally with key partners like Japan and Australia, but forward-positioned platforms, weapons, and forces in this theater of war may be at a distance where deployment could take longer. However, Guam is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and offers U.S. and allied forces a valuable opportunity to conduct surveillance missions, training operations, and allied interoperability exercises. For example, it is not surprising that the Navy’s Triton drone, a high-tech surveillance platform designed specifically for naval warfare and reconnaissance missions, has been based in Guam for many years.

Both Shelby and Berger emphasized the added value of stationing additional Marines in Guam and showed their firm determination to increase protection. While details of these issues are not often discussed for understandable security reasons, there are some general areas where US military leaders value. Of course, given what is known about China’s arsenal of missiles, ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missile defense is a key priority. This could take the form of forward-positioned warships equipped with Aegis systems capable of countering ballistic, anti-aircraft and cruise missiles. However, ground-based defenses could also provide unique value to Guam’s armed forces, depending on the frequency and scale with which Aegis warships could be deployed in the region. There is a wide range of air defense systems that could be considered, including Patriot missile batteries and ground-based radar systems. Army programs such as the rapidly available Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) are increasingly able to network otherwise disparate sensor and gunner nodes across a wide area, and even leverage multi-domain connectivity to share target information.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor of the national interests. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a senior professional in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement, Logistics and Technology. Osborn has also worked as a presenter and on-air military specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel and The History Channel. He also has a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Flickr/US Navy.


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