Guam Defence system could require 1,000 acres, 700 soldiers

Photo: 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade/Facebook

Some 2,000 acres of land, most of it on Department of Defence property, is being analysed for the construction of a new 360-degree missile defence system, DOD officials told members of the Guam media last week.

As many as 700 soldiers and their families also will be needed to man the new system, which will be distributed across as many as 20 sites on Guam from north to south.

Leadership from the Army, the Navy and the Missile Defense Agency sat down with members of the media at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa in Tumon to talk at length about the project, dubbed the Guam Defence System, for the first time since it became public knowledge in May.

Final environmental analysis will cut the acreage needed for the missile defense system down to between 900 and 1,000 acres, according to John Bier, Missile Defence Agency programme director for the Guam Defence System. Some 95 percent of the area being analysed is on DOD property, according to Bier, but it is possible that private land may need to be acquired for buffer zones or access roads to behind-the-fence assets.

“We’re assessing that right now … There’ll be some safety zones that may protrude outside of the Department of Defence land,” Bier said. “We’ll identify those landowners and get into a mutual agreement.”

A draft environmental impact assessment is expected to be submitted around May 2024 for public comment, with a final record of determination expected by February 2025. Construction for the system will get off the ground by 2027, Bier said.

A number of components, including radar arrays, missile launchers and office space for support staff, will occupy the 20 sites being eyed for the system, Bier said, but he didn’t say how many areas will contain actual missile launcher components.

“We don’t know what is on each of these sites right now. We may need to move an asset and, as that data comes in over the next year, we’ll take that and then do our final placement of each of the assets,” Bier said.

He did dismiss earlier concerns from reports that the system would be made up of mobile components. Though launchers and other pieces of the system will be mobile, Bier said, it’s mostly to minimise construction time and reduce costs.

“(I) don’t think we’re going to have these large launchers (and) look at that moving up and down the highway every day,” he said.

Despite lobbying in the U.S. Senate for nuclear micro-reactor usage on Guam, along with previous studies commissioned by the Army, the Missile Defense Agency isn’t looking to atomic energy for the Guam Defense System, said Bier Generator power will be used for the sites, he said.

Guam will be getting the latest missile technology developed by the Army, such as souped-up Patriot missile systems and other missile interceptors from the Navy including the Aegis Ashore, which will help to minimize the footprint of the entire project, according to Major General Sean Gainey, director of Fires, the air and missile defense component of the Army.

“The Army has been developing that capability … for the past five or six years, bringing those components together in our integrated battle command station, and it’s gone into full-rate production, which means it’s already been approved and tested and is getting ready to go,” he said.

Guam will be the first location to get that tech, which will be manned and run by the Army, Gainey said.

The estimated 700 soldiers and their families will need to have barracks built starting in 2027, added Major General Reginald Neal, deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Pacific MobiliSation and Reserve Affairs. They may be housed at either Naval Base Guam or Andersen Air Force Base, but an Army facility could also be a possibility.

“We don’t want to negatively impact the current economy,” Neal said. “So when you have families in, if there’s not housing available, we have to look at building housing.”

Bunkers to protect local civilians in the event of an attack, an idea tossed around in conversation between local leaders, aren’t on the radar, according to Joint Region Marianas commander Rear Admiral Greg Huffman.

“I don’t think we need to have bunkers because we’ve got the missile defense system … The Guam Defense System is actually what’s providing our coverage,” he said.

The Guam Daily Post asked about the accuracy of the system in defending against missile threats, especially advanced hypersonic weapons being stockpiled by China, a grave threat outlined earlier this year by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Researchers and local leaders have expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the new system.

Bier said the “hit-to-kill” technology being used in the missile system was well proven over the past 40 years and multiple systems would be working together in a “unique integration” on the island. He referred to reports from the Government Accountability Office when asked about the system’s success rate.

“It’s … a high probability of success,” Bier told the Post. “And you want that, and that’s another reason why we’re going to be using layered missile defense, … multiple shots as a missile is approaching.”

The Missile Defence Agency still is developing the ability to intercept advanced hypersonic missiles during their “glide phase,” the longest part of a missile’s flight, according to a report issued by the GAO last summer. Current capability for intercept of hypersonic missiles is in the “terminal phase,” the minutes before a missile strikes its target.

Reports state that the task is on par with the most technically difficult projects run by the Missile Defence Agency, and the date for rolling out such an interceptor is set at 2028, though that may change.

It’s possible the system could be used to enhance offensive capabilities. Testimony submitted to Congress earlier this year by Admiral John Aquilino states the Guam Defence System “must also be prepared to incorporate offensive capabilities as needed, and synchronise our logistics requirements from the island.”

Asked about Aquilino’s statement, Gainey said: “Right now, the focus is building the defensive system for Guam. If future requirements come up that require offensive capability, the Army has a range of capabilities in its arsenal that it can employ or integrate as part of this architecture, and (it) will be looked (into) at that time.”

When asked whether he was aware of any high-level discussion on offensive ballistic missiles being incorporated into the system, Gainey said, “You’ve got exactly what I got from the testimony piece,” he said.