The head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said last week his top priority is establishing an Aegis Ashore system on Guam by 2026. New air defenses will help protect U.S. citizens and forces in Guam; but as Japan’s government found, Aegis Ashore may not be the best option to protect military and civilian targets from growing and improving Chinese and North Korean missile threats.
Guam is pivotal to U.S. and allied military posture in the Western Pacific. Home to Andersen Air Force Base and Apra Harbor, it is far enough from adversaries like China and North Korea to negate the threat from more numerous short-range missiles but close enough to support air and naval operations throughout the Philippine Sea and South and East China seas.
Although the current Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery on Guam can defend against some ballistic missiles, its single AN/TPY-2 radar is vulnerable and cannot provide 360-degree coverage. Moreover, THAAD’s focus on high altitudes makes it a poor fit to defeat lower-flying aircraft or cruise missiles that would likely be used by China’s military against Guam. The island needs a new air defense architecture.
Aegis Ashore is highly capable, but has its own limitations. Designed primarily to counter small numbers of ballistic missiles, its fixed missile magazine and radar would be vulnerable to attack and would fall short against the bombardment possible from China.
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