Ballistic missiles and Admiral Davidson

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Posted on Apr 12 2021

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The outgoing head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip Davidson, recently stated in Senate testimony on Capitol Hill that his top priority was to see Congress fund an Aegis Ashore weapons system facility for Guam. According to Davidson, Guam has tremendous amounts of military resources, assets, and thousands of American citizens who need to be protected. Davidson’s comments were made in response to China’s ongoing military modernization strategy and its ability to launch short, medium, and long-range missiles aimed at Guam.  

What is the Aegis system?
The Aegis system is the name of an integrated weapons platform made up of interceptor missiles, missile launchers, computer hardware, computer software and sensor componentry, manned by military personnel. The Aegis system is utilized at sea and on land and is one of several pieces of the broad-based American theater ballistic missile defense system that is geographically distributed in select locations throughout the planet.

The Navy uses Aegis systems capable of performing the ballistic missile defense mission on its surface warships called Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile Aegis destroyers and Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers. Approximately 50 Navy surface ships are outfitted with the Aegis system, with close to 40 ships having the capability to perform the ballistic missile defense mission. Of these 40 vessels, approximately 20 are assigned to the Pacific. 

Aegis systems placed on land are intended to intercept incoming ballistic missiles, shoot down enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft cruise missiles. Placing an Aegis Ashore facility in Guam would also be used to deter both China and North Korea from launching a missile attack targeting our islands.

The Navy and the Missile Defense Agency oversee the Aegis program for the Pentagon. The Aegis weapons system is roughly 40 years old and was originally set up to protect and defend Navy surface vessels from missile, submarine, airplane, and ship attacks. 

Why now, why Guam?
At first glance, the Navy’s logic appears somewhat straightforward. Constructing an Aegis facility on-island will free up three Navy surface vessels that currently provide standing mission ballistic missile defense protection. These vessels can then be reassigned to other critical mission areas throughout the region. The thinking behind having an Aegis Ashore facility in Guam is that it will augment the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, ground-based interceptor platform managed by the Army up at Andersen Air Force Base. 

What Davidson didn’t say
Many things were not included in Davidson’s remarks to Congress. The Navy remains under tremendous pressure to conduct a variety of missions throughout the Pacific Ocean using relatively limited and/or overutilized resources. He made no detailed mention of why this request was being made now. 

Davidson failed to state that the Aegis system is both a defensive and offensive weapons platform, not just the former. He did not mention that Aegis Ashore systems may or may not be more survivable than the Aegis systems placed on Navy ships, and he failed to talk about the limitations of the Aegis system and to distinguish whether a Guam-based operation will be capable of intercepting incoming missiles at terminal and/or mid-course stages.  

Davidson made no mention if the Northern Marianas Islands would be the site for long range land-based radar to compliment an Aegis Ashore installation in Guam. He made no mention of how many missiles would be located at a Guam Aegis Ashore facility. He made no mention of precisely how many Aegis surface ships will be assigned, if any, to support Guam’s ground-based interceptor architecture should the Aegis Ashore facility be built. Lastly, Davidson made no mention that the American citizens in Guam that he referenced in congressional testimony remain politically disenfranchised, colonized, and have no real and equal say on matters pertaining to national security and decision-making. 

Some risks to the Chamorro people of Guam and the CNMI
The Aegis Ashore system cannot defend against incoming hypersonic speed cruise missiles coming in at low altitudes and neither can the THAAD. Our ancient Chamorro Pacific Islander civilization could be disseminated if a saturation attack occurred against Guam, through incoming massive barrages of highly maneuverable reentry vehicles and warheads, cruise missiles and small unmanned aircraft systems. Issues of reliability and effective coordination between the Aegis Ashore system and the THAAD remain unclear should Guam come under actual attack. 

In addition, the military would not be able to control where various component parts—used and attached to missile interceptors during the initial take off phase—would land, posing potential dangers of falling debris on our families, homes, and villages. 

If Guam were attacked, our people have no comprehensive nuclear bomb shelter infrastructure to go to because Congress has never appropriated the money to provide required safety measures for our people. 

More public discussions are needed on the topic of overall village safety so that greater numbers of people will develop a deeper understanding of ballistic missile defense, the Aegis Ashore system and known risks to our families. 

What’s next?
The Pentagon is working on ways to use the Aegis ballistic missile defense system to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles. Our Western Pacific and Micronesia region are being used to test, evaluate, and conduct ballistic missile defense-related research on laser weapons placed on Navy surface ships and high velocity projectiles shot from surface ships using electromagnetic force generated from railgun motors onboard. 

The Japanese military also remains deeply involved in this ballistic missile defense effort because it has a long-established arrangement with the Pentagon on how to improve missile components such as warheads, sensors and radar technology using state-of-the-art Japanese semiconductors. The Japanese also have approximately seven military surface ships that are equipped with Aegis systems capable of performing ballistic missile defense missions.

Rick Perez | Author
Rick Perez used to serve in the U.S. military and has work experiences in public policy research and public affairs. He is passionate about national security and geopolitics and runs a newsletter called Guam Affairs at guamaffairs.substack.com. For questions or comments, contact Perez at rickp7839@gmail.com.

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