Guam is one of the United States’ most vital military outposts. From bomber planes to submarines, every military branch is present on the island. This is where a future American war with China may begin. As tension over Taiwan worsens, war experts predict early and sustained Chinese missile strikes on Guam and perhaps the use of nuclear weapons against it. For such a vital military complex, Guam is only thinly defended. Its THAAD missile-defense battery is not always switched on. It is only intended to defend a limited attack from North Korea, not an onslaught from China. To survive within China’s “weapons engagement zone,” the American air force is developing “agile combat employment.” This involves scattering aircraft to deny China an easy shot and networking them with distant “sensors” and “shooters” to give battle. The vulnerability of Guam is finally getting recognized by U.S. leaders, and a plan is beginning to be formed. The Pentagon has requested $1.5 billion to start beefing up the island’s air defenses in the 2024 fiscal year, much of it for the Missile Defense Agency, which focuses mainly on missile threats against the American homeland, and the rest will go to the army. The U.S. is now playing catch up and hopefully can do it in time.
All this raises questions. First is the timetable: several of the components are not yet in production, and much of the money is still going on research and development. Another is whether disparate systems from the Missile Defense Agency, navy, and Army can be fully integrated so that commanders can fight off many kinds of missiles from many directions. A third is whether a polarized Congress will pass a budget on time. And last, many of Guam’s people may ask: will even more military hardware in Guam endanger us or scare away the tourists?