By Fang Xiaozhi
The US DoD’s recent revelation of a so-called defense plan for Guam that comprises the Standard Missile (SM), Patriot, and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems to enhance Guam’s anti-missile capability has captured extensive attention in the international community.
The Guam base assumes a vital position in America’s West Pacific military base system and is a strategic pivot for its implementation of the so-called “major power competition”. Recently the country has stepped up fortifying the anti-missile capabilities there on the grounds that Guam may be subject to missile attacks.
Consistent construction of island base cluster
The US military has kept fortifying the military equipment at Andersen AFB in Guam in recent years. Since 2004, it has successively assigned the Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, including B-1B, B-2A and B-52H strategic bombers, to rotate in Guam, making it a normal practice. Starting from 2010, it has deployed the Global Hawk UAVs and F-35 fighters on the island.
In addition to fortifying existing bases, the US military has invested to expand new ones following the concept of “distributed operations”. Analysts said when the expansion is completed, the US military may make deployments eastward along Guam, Tinian Island, Saipan, Wake Island and Hawaii to create an island base cluster in which the bases can coordinate with each other with a certain depth.
Establishment of all-round air-defense fire-attack network
According to American media, despite the US military’s long-year efforts, the fire attack network in Guam isn’t that perfect and the THAAD anti-missile system has limited capabilities. In a recent interview with American website Defense News, director of the Missile Defense Agency Jon Hill said they will build up an all-round, multi-layered anti-missile fire-attack network on the island.
In the declassified version of the Missile Defense Review released in October 2022, the US underscored the air-defense and anti-missile fortifications in Guam and the necessity to put in place a complete defense system there, calling the island a major military aircraft and ship logistics center and base in the Asian Pacific. The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year of 2023 also said the US will set up a separate agency to evaluate the so-called Guam Defense Plan.
The Guam Defense Plan released this time showed that the anti-missile systems deployed in Guam will consist of the US Navy’s SM-3 and SM-6, US Army’s Patriot-2 and Patriot-3, and the THAAD system. They will be connected through the US Army’s unified combatant command system to form a multi-layered, distributed and mobile air-defense and anti-missile network for Guam.
Possibility to head into a strategic dead end
The US has continuously optimized its overseas deployments, dispatch of elite forces, and distribution of advanced equipment in recent years with the so-called “major-country competition” as its priority strategic goal. On that basis, it has also adjusted the forward deterrence deployments in the West Pacific that rely on the island chain and the forward stationing of heavy troops.
The latest round of adjustment has seen the US military shift the focus of deployment to the second island chain and pay more attention to Guam’s role as a strategic pivot. At the same time, it is strongly pushing dynamic deployment and trying all means to obtain the right to temporarily use military bases and key infrastructure in Southeast Asian countries and Pacific island countries. All these moves are aimed to spread its forces widely across different geographical spaces to weave a “multi-node, dispersed and resilient” network of bases, and continue to upgrade the integrated theater command capability, thus creating a West Pacific combat system with wide geographical coverage.
While the US intends to enhance Guam’s overall air-defense and anti-missile capability through the defense plan, in reality, it may well make the island more vulnerable in security. Analysts pointed out that if the US, instead of forsaking the hegemonistic mindset, continues to pursue superiority in so-called “major-power competition” by force, it will eventually head into a strategic dead end.
(The author is an associate professor at the School of International Relations, National University of Defense Technology)