U.S. Missile Defense System To Be Brought To Guam

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Governor says land-based system ‘gives some comfort’

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 5, 2013) – As North Korea yesterday upped its threats further by claiming its military has approval to launch a nuclear attack, the Defense Department announced a missile defense system is being moved to Guam in the next few weeks.

The Defense Department stated it would move a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system to Guam, prompting comments from island officials that the development helps to reassure the island.

Over the past two weeks, North Korea has mentioned Guam, and specifically Andersen Air Force Base, among potential targets.

"This deployment will strengthen defense capabilities for American citizens in the U.S. territory of Guam and U.S. forces stationed there," the Defense Department stated.

The truck-mounted air defense weapon system is designed to intercept missiles during late mid-course or final stage of flight, the Missile Defense Agency states.

"The THAAD flies at high altitudes and provides broad-area coverage against threats to critical assets such as population centers, industrial resources, and military forces," the agency states.

The Associated Press reported that North Korea has moved a missile with "considerable range" to its east coast, according to a statement yesterday by South Korea's defense minister, but he added that there are no signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a full-scale conflict.

The missile defense system planned for Guam several years ago included a study that says the restricted air spaces were not expected to adversely affect the air traffic to and from the island's only commercial air travel gateway to the world -- the A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport.

It's unclear what level of personnel will support the Guam-bound missile defense system, but an earlier comprehensive plan to develop an Army missile defense facility at Andersen involved stationing about 600 Army personnel, 900 dependents and 100 civilian support personnel on the island, Defense Department documents show.

The plan to develop an Army Ballistic Missile Defense Task Force was mothballed in 2010 over funding concerns from some U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain.

The Army has estimated the planned Army Ballistic Missile Defense Task Force on Guam would cost $242 million in fiscal 2014 and 2015 -- including for construction of the required facilities and the weapons placement sites, a Defense Department plan shows.

The Defense Department suspended execution of the missile defense plan for Guam along with the military's decision to defer the selection of a Guam site for Marine live-fire training exercises and berth space for recurring visits of an aircraft carrier.

Governor Eddie Calvo said the deployment of a land-based missile defense system to Guam "gives us some comfort."

"We're not under the original North American missile defense system -- we do not fall under this protective blanket," the governor said.

Plans to expand the military's presence on Guam as part of the realignment of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific had included establishing a missile defense facility as early several years ago, the governor said.

He emphasized that that part of improving the Guam part of the nation's security "hit a brick wall at the Senate."

The governor said he hopes U.S. senators who oppose funding for military expansion projects on Guam will "change course."

The governor wrote yesterday to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

"We are grateful the Obama administration is acting to defend the Marianas and our country's allies in the region -- albeit under the pressure of the clear and present danger of recent North Korean aggression," the Republican governor stated.

"Had the Senate Armed Services Committee -- particularly Sen. McCain -- allowed the Department of Defense to move forward with the planned U.S. military buildup on Guam three years ago, Secretary Hagel may not be rushing ballistic missile interceptors to the Unites States' westernmost frontier," the governor wrote to Levin.

While the military has often called Guam the " Tip of the Spear" in the nation's defense posture in the Pacific, the governor said, "Sen. McCain's obstructionism has instead made us the 'bull's-eye.'"

'Don't want to be wrong'

In Washington, D.C., Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel repeated yesterday what he said last week: North Korean officials' threats are being taken seriously.

"They have nuclear capacity now. They have missile delivery capacity now," Hagel said, adding: "some of the actions they've taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger and threat to the interests, certainly of our allies, starting with South Korea and Japan; and also the threats that the North Koreans have leveled directly at the United States regarding our base in Guam, threatened Hawaii, threatened the West Coast of the United States."

"I think we have had measured, responsible, serious responses to those threats," Hagel said, adding later: "As I said in a news conference, I guess, last week when asked about this, it only takes being wrong once. And I don't want to be the secretary of defense who was wrong once. So we will continue to take these threats seriously. I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down. There is a pathway that's responsible for the North to get on a path to peace, working with their neighbors," Hagel said.

Congressional voice

Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo said she was briefed by an official at the Pentagon with more details on the missile defense system deployment.

"I am encouraged that the Pentagon will soon be deploying a THAAD missile defense system to Guam to defend our island and the Asia-Pacific region," Bordallo said. "The Pentagon and the White House have assured our community on Guam that our military is ready to respond to any threat to our country and our allies. This announcement is further proof that our military has taken the necessary and precautionary steps to ensure the safety of our island."

Bordallo said she hopes Congress now recognizes that further delays in the military expansion plans for Guam and the broader Asia-Pacific realignment of the U.S. military's forces "make our allies question our commitment to the region."

Island Senator Frank Aguon Jr., chairman of the legislative committee that deals with island issues, said he hopes the deployment of the missile defense system to Guam "will further emphasize the need for a more permanent stationing of this type of military equipment on the island."

Need for protection

"This sensitive situation further highlights the need to work with the Office of Homeland Security on the timely and complete installation of the warning devices -- sirens -- which will further provide our people immediate notification in emergent situations such as tsunamis, military threats or other forms of atrocities," Aguon said.

A years-long procurement dispute had kept the government of Guam from installing a federally funded emergency siren system, Pacific Daily News files show.

From a local public policy perspective, University of Guam public administration associate professor Ron McNinch suggested local officials move toward securing potential targets such as the island's drinking water supply and power infrastructure.

McNinch doubts North Korea would or could attack Guam, but said it's is big on sending infiltration agents. He said the island should be concerned about potential attempts to sabotage the island's infrastructure.

As shown in the last devastating typhoon on Guam almost 10 years ago, a fire at a fuel tank farm caused days of disruption to Guam, McNinch said.

Guam Sen. Chris Duenas, assistant minority leader, said any type of beefed-up defense capability is always welcome and appreciated "in light of the situation."

The United States has deployed additional ships and other deterrent forces close to South Korea, and Duenas said it's good to have additional capabilities as well on Guam.

"I've always felt confident that the region is covered and this addition is welcome," Duenas said.

Support for military

Local legislative Speaker Judith Won Pat issued a statement that the Legislature has not been briefed on the decision to send a THAAD system to Guam.

"In general, my understanding of this deployment of the THAAD missile defense battery, which reportedly cost almost $1 billion, is that it will be the first of its kind, and the defense department has advanced its deployment," the speaker said. "The military knows best how to defend its assets, interest, and people. I'm confident that all due consideration has been given to ensure that our island is protected from potential harm from the North Korean threat, or any other military threat," according to Won Pat's statement. "As always, our people will support our Armed Forces as best we can."

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