Guam, where America’s next war may begin

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LIKE MAIN of America’s bases in the Pacific, Guam mixes hedonism with war spies. Japanese and South Korean visitors enjoy the sands of Thumon Bay, a coral reef lagoon. above, F-15 warriors and B-1 bombers bank to land at nearby Andersen Air Force Base. Below, nuclear attack submarines slip in and out of Apra Harbour. The marines are building a base up the road. There are many lies recalling the Pacific war between America and Japan. The last Japanese soldier surrendered in 1972.

“Where America’s day begins”, as Guam likes to sell itself (wrongly), is also where America’s future war with China may begin. The westernmost speck of America, just 30 miles (48km) long and with a population of about 170,000, helps it project power across the Pacific Ocean. As tensions over Taiwan escalate, war games often predict early and sustained Chinese missile strikes on Guam, and possibly the use of nuclear weapons against it.

Surprisingly, for such a vital military base, Guam is only thinly defended. There is a THERE bulletproof battery is not always on. At least he plans to contain only a limited attack from North Korea, not an onslaught from China. Andersen does not have Patriot surface-to-air missiles, although they are in use at American bases in South Korea and Japan. Warships equipped with Aegis air defense systems offer additional protection, but may not always be close at hand. To judge from the ubiquitous metal traps on fences around Guam bases, commanders seem more concerned about the brown tree snake, an invasive species, than a surprise Chinese strike.

China makes no secret that Guam is a crosshair. The DF-26 missile, with a range of 4,000km, usually called “Guam killer”. In 2020 a Chinese propaganda video showed the H-6K bomber attacking an undisclosed air base: the unique satellite image of Andersen. In order to survive within China’s “military engagement zone”, the US air force is developing “agile combat employment”. This means dispersing planes to deny China an easy shot, and networking them with distant “sensors” and “shooters” to give battle. They used such tactics during the Cope North exercise with Japan and Australia on Guam and nearby islands in February. At the end of each day, however, all the jets were parked together in neat open rows. The base has no hard shelters for aircraft, and its fuel is stored in bulk tanks above ground.

Guam’s vulnerability is getting a lot of attention in Washington, especially because the commanders of the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in Hawaii, which presides over any future war with China, continue to plead for better protection. Finally, a plan emerges. The Pentagon has requested $1.5bn to begin building the island’s air defenses in fiscal year 2024 (which begins in October 2023), much of it for the Missile Defense Agency.MDA), which primarily focuses on missile threats against the American homeland, and the rest to the military. INDOPACOM pushing for $147ma more.

“We’re playing catch-up,” said Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the Senate leader. MDA. He says the first step is to land the ship-based Aegis system. Unlike the “Aegis on land” systems in Poland and Romania, the version on Guam will have better radars, and many components will be “distributed”: mobile on wheels to improve their chances of attack. There will be multiple radars to provide complete coverage. along with THEREthis provides stronger protection against ballistic missiles.

Cruise missiles can pose a greater threat due to their larger numbers, and low flight and maneuverability. These would be undertaken mostly by a variety of military systems: Patriot; its new and more powerful radar, LTAMDS; and a so-called shorter range system IFPC. The first elements should be in place by 2024. Future equipment will be integrated as it becomes available. It could eventually include weapons to take out hypersonic missiles, which are difficult to hit because they fly fast and move, and “directed energy” systems (using lasers and microwaves)

All this raises questions. One of them is the schedule: several of the components are not yet in production, and much of the money is still going on research and development. Another is whether systems differ from the MDA, navy and army are fully integrated so that commanders can fight against many types of missiles from many directions. The third is whether a polarized Congress will pass a budget on time. And finally, many people of Guam may be wondering: will more military hardware on Guam put us at risk, or scare the tourists?

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