Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), is advocating for an Aegis Ashore missile defense system on the island of Guam. Davidson spoke about the need for bolstered missile defenses in the Pacific at a virtual event for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, on Thursday.
The U.S. territory of Guam, approximately one-third of the way from the Philippines to Hawaii, is a key strategic military installation and home to 170,000 American citizens. Admiral Davidson has stated multiple times that funding air and missile defense on Guam is his “number one priority.” Some defense experts are apprehensive about the plan, which Davidson responded to on Thursday:
“Placing a fixed defense system on Guam does not make Guam a target — it is already one,” he said.
“China is making no secret of this fact, as evidenced in last fall’s widely circulated [People’s Liberation Army] air force propaganda video which explicitly depicted an attack on a mock-up of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.”
The Aegis missile defense system was developed for use aboard Navy ships and can be found aboard some U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class Cruisers (CG) and Arleigh Burke-class Guided Missile Destroyers (DDG). The Aegis ashore iteration has also already been deployed in Deveselu, Romania as part of the NATO missile defense system.
One advantage of a land-based defense system that Davidson cited is the ability to free up at least three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers that have multi-mission capability for other tasks.
“We need to free up those guided-missile destroyers, who have multi-mission capability to detect threats and finish threats under the sea, on the sea and above the sea, so that they can move with a mobile and maneuverable naval forces that they were designed to protect and provide their ballistic missile defense.”
Davidson referred to the “360- degree threat” from China’s surface ships and submarines circling the Marianas Islands and Guam. The INDOPACOM commander stated the measures currently in place, primarily a combination of Aegis-equipped destroyers and the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, is designed to thwart a rogue missile from North Korea, and is not sufficient for a full-scale attack from China.
As was reported by USNI News, INDOPACOM is requesting $4.68 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2022 to support its role in the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI). The PDI, similar to the European Deterrence Initiative of 2014 with Russia in mind, was created by Congress last summer as a means of increasing congressional oversight and prioritizing defenses in the region west of the international dateline, of which Davidson called Guam the United States’ most critical operating location. INDOPACOM is requesting an additional $22.69 billion from FY 2023-2027. The Aegis Ashore system itself carries a price tag of $1.6 billion.
Davidson emphasized that Guam is not only a “critical nexus for command and control, for logistics and sustainment, and for our power projection.” Fortifying Guam not only sends a message to China, but also to our allies in the region, which will only contribute to stability in the region.
“We’re going to have to be able to fight for it, and missile defense in the region is critical,” Davidson said. “… And our allies and partners – who are increasing their investments in their defense in the region – recognize the same thing for their territories.”