U.S. Building Up To 20 New Air Defence Sites on Guam: Creating the World’s Most Heavily Protected Airspace to Face Chinese and Korean Strikes

The U.S. Military is planning a major expansion of air defence capabilities on the strategically located Pacific Island of Guam, which hosts leading Navy and Air Force facilities vital to America’s ability to project power into the region as well as a growing Marine presence. Guam Naval Base and Andersen Air Force Base have long been seen as priority targets for Chinese and North Korean strikes should war in the region break out, with assets such as DF-26 and Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles, with a growing range of new ship and air launched cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons fielded by the East Asian nuclear powers further increasing the territory’s vulnerability. The relocation of U.S. Marine facilities from Okinawa to Guam, which is considered a much safer distance away from potential strikes, has only further increased its importance. The territory is also set to host B-21 nuclear capable stealth bombers from the early 2030s which, due to their much shorter ranges than the preceding B-2 bomber, will need to be forward deployed for unrefuelled penetration strikes into China. The vulnerability of Guam has long been highlighted by a range of assessments, despite the Barak Obama administration strengthening the territory’s defences in response to progress in North Korean ballistic missile development in the mid-2010s. 

Guam is set to field up to 20 new air defence sites as part of efforts to tremendously improve the survivability of important facilities there, with these sites expected to host a combination of surface to air missile launchers, radars and other assets under an Enhanced Integrated Air and Missile Defense (EIAMD) system. Significant new airspace restrictions are also expected to be put in place. Regarding the capabilities expected to be introduced an American military report elaborated: “The missile defence system would be able to defend Guam a full 360 degrees around the entirety of the island. The 360-degree capability would be achieved by distributing/placing system components at multiple locations around the island… Site selection is evolving and additional sites may be considered…. If the Proposed Action is implemented, MDA [Missile Defence Agency] and the Army would construct the Enhanced Integrated Air and Missile Defense (EIAMD) and it would operate continuously.” It remains uncertain what kind of missile defence assets will be deployed.

In parallel to efforts to strengthen Guam’s missile defences, the U.S. Military has also sought to diversify its range of facilities for power projection into East Asia including through expansion of facilities on Wake Island and in Northern Australia, all of which are expected to also be able to serve as staging grounds for B-21 nuclear capable bombers. As East Asia has emerged increasingly at the centre of global high tech and the world economy, the ability to militarily dominate the region and strike potential adversaries has become increasingly important to American and broader Western Bloc interests. China for its part has developed a counterpart to the B-21 bomber, the H-20, with the two expected to make their first flights within months of one another and potentially enter service near simultaneously. China’s lack of overseas airbases, however, means its bombers are expected to have much longer ranges comparable to that which the B-2 currently has in order to be able to launch retaliatory strikes against the United States if necessary.