U.S. Mulling Permanent Missile Defense System in Guam

By Jon Harper

The U.S. military is considering deploying additional defenses against enemy ballistic missiles in the Pacific region by permanently basing a terminal high altitude area defense system on Guam, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific said Dec. 8.

The Defense Department has been rotationally deploying THAAD to the island since April 2013 in response to North Korean threats. A THAAD battery — which consists of a mobile launcher, interceptors, radar and a fire control network — is capable of shooting down incoming missiles inside or outside the atmosphere with “hit to kill” interceptors, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

“We … are proceeding toward a permanent stationing of that element in Guam,” Army Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters at a breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Putting THAAD there on a full-time basis would offer several benefits, he noted.

“It’s first about making sure we have a continuous presence” for readiness and deterrence purposes, he said.

Such a move could also have budgetary implications. THAAD unit rotations are currently funded through the base budget rather than supplemental overseas contingency operations funds, Brooks noted. Permanently stationing an element in Guam could save money versus deploying United States-based units on lengthy rotations, the regional Army chief said.

“There’s a fiscal aspect of this also,” he said. “The more cost we have to apply to rotations the fewer the dollars we have to apply to actual operations.”

Ending the extended rotations will also ease the burden on troops and their families and give the Pentagon more flexibility in deploying U.S.-based missile defense to other hotspots, he said.
Brooks did not provide a specific timetable for when THAAD will be permanently based in Guam.

North Korea’s missile capabilities and its demonstrated willingness to use force is the “biggest concern” driving U.S. missile defense efforts in the region, he said.

“That is a very dangerous proposition,” he said. “Knowing that [they] have long-range ballistic missile capabilities, potentially even nuclear capabilities … we have to have defenses in place.”

U.S. officials believe that Pyongyang is trying to miniaturize nuclear warheads so that they could be delivered via missile. “We can’t certify [that they have developed that capability] yet but we have every expectation that they’re moving that way,” Brooks said.

Brooks declined to comment on the possibility of deploying THAAD in South Korea to bolster missile defenses there. “That is the kind of discussion that the Republic of Korea is going to have, is having, will have, if they’re interested, with the U.S. government,” he said. 

Sending THAAD to Japan — another major U.S. ally — would be beneficial, Brooks said.

“Anything that increases defenses in the region against … the North Korean threat is helpful,” he said. “I would suspect that it wouldn’t be the only thing that they [Japanese officials] are considering. …

We have to see which way that goes, but that has not been one of the detailed discussions that I have been involved in.”

Topics: Armaments, Ballistics

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