‘Guam is a target today.’ Pacific chief pitches Aegis Ashore to Congress

‘Guam is a target today.’ Pacific chief pitches Aegis Ashore to Congress


WASHINGTON ― Warning that China’s missile arsenal threatens Guam and the U.S. will have “fight for it,” the head of Indo-Pacific Command pitched lawmakers on building an Aegis Ashore missile defense facility to guard the U.S. territory.

Adm. Phil Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the island needs protection as the home of 170,000 U.S. citizens and service members, a deepwater strategic port, fuel and munition stores and an airfield used to project U.S. power. Guam would be key to responding to any conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Guam is a target today. It needs to be defended, and it needs to be prepared for the threats that will come in the future,” Davidson said, adding later: “China’s own Air Force has put out a propaganda video showing their H-6 bomber force attacking Andersen Air Force Base at Guam and distributed that quite publicly.”

While an Aegis Ashore system would counter ballistic missiles or cruise missiles launch from the air, land and sea, whereas the island’s anti-ballistic missile system, the existing Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, “is not capable of meeting the current trajectory of threats from China,” Davidson said.

“It’s the key piece that we’re missing, that signals to the region that the U.S. is a reliable and committed security partner, that we are there to defend not only U.S. territory but our interests abroad,” Davidson said, adding it would show China it “can’t knock Guam out with an easy shot and keep us out of the fight to present a fait accompli” against Taiwan.

Davidson has previously said the $1.6 billion system is his top priority among $27 billion in spending he’s proposed to continue a special Pacific Deterrence Initiative through 2027 to bolster the U.S. military posture in the region. Aegis Ashore systems have been installed or are in progress in Romania and Poland.

While Davidson didn’t face any direct challenges at Tuesday’s Senate hearing, $77 million proposed for the system was scuttled from last year’s defense policy bill. More broadly, he acknowledged that funding for PDI must compete with other priorities in the defense budget.

In a wide-ranging hearing that touched on the Chinese military’s growing nuclear arsenal and naval fleet, Davidson expressed confidence the PDI is “absolutely a priority that will be addressed” in the president’s budget request being finalized for release in April. He cited a recent internal memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Kath Hicks.

“I’ve been encouraged by much of the draft material I’ve seen, but there’s a long way to go before the budget is finalized, and we’ll continue to engage with the department to see it through,” Davidson said.

In exchanges with lawmakers, Davidson reiterated support for a number of investments for the region, including ground-based precision fires; new Virginia- and Columbia-class submarines; range improvements in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam; improved joint exercises with allies, as well as added intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to provide an early warning in case of an attack.

One of the parents of the bipartisan PDI last year, SASC Chairman Jack Reed, said that “maintaining momentum” for the fund would be a “key focus” in drafting this year’s defense policy bill. The panel’s top Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma, likewise signaled support.

“We’ve made a lot of progress … through the European Defense Initiative by investing over $20 billion in the last five years,” Inhofe said in a statement. “We need to apply a similar level of focus effort and resources to our posture in the Pacific through PDI.”





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Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.