MDA Chief: U.S. Needs Hybrid System to Defend Guam From Missile Threats

June 23, 2021 5:18 PM
USS Wayne E Meyer (DDG 108) departs Apra Harbor, Naval Base Guam after a planned port visit in 2018
. US Navy Photo

The U.S. will likely need to deploy a hybrid system to defend Guam due to its difficult terrain and the variety of missile threats it faces, the head of the Missile Defense Agency said this week.

Vice Adm. John Hill described Guam’s mountainous terrain as “a challenging place” to defend against ballistic, cruise or hypersonic missile threats.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised” at the final decision, Hill said Tuesday at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

At one point, he said, “I can see Aegis being underground or mobile” on the island. “It’s not new science separating radars [for detection] from weapons” to destroy incoming missiles.

“Aegis Ashore [as it exists in Romania and under construction in Poland] may not be sufficient.”

The ashore system pairs the same radar found on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers along with a Vertical Launch System (VLS) in a ground-based station. He added the Aegis system has been modified to address the hypersonic threats posed by Chinese and Russian missiles.

Hill said the agency’s assessment of how to meet the threat to the U.S. territory in the Pacific is now under review in the Pentagon before it is sent to Congress. He said no decision has been made on which service would lead the missile defense effort on Guam.

The assessment started with “what’s there today?”

The Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense [THAAD] system is already in place.

The THAAD system was deployed to Guam in 2014 in response to North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile testing, which posed a new threat to the island. The U.S. territory has extensive ship repair facilities, a large Marine and Air Force presence, and Army detachments.

“We’ll figure out what systems” work best on Guam with the goal of providing as much trade space as possible in defending the island against missile attacks from North Korea and China, Hill said.

THAAD Missile Battery. Missile Defense Agency Photo

Adm. Phil Davidson, the former head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said in March that he favored deploying Aegis Ashore on the island to free three destroyers for other missions.

“We must evolve the critical defense of our people, our platforms and our posture initiatives, and it begins in Guam. Now, a highly capable, fully adaptable and proven system like Aegis – established in a fixed location like Guam – will deliver persistent, 360-degree integrated air and missile defense from the second island chain,” he said at the time.

In an answer to question from USNI News, Hill said at the CSIS event that missile defense on Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean, in the future may have to take a regionally integrated approach. Like Guam, “those are hard places to defend” because of their terrain, he said.

Diego Garcia has a large American naval support facility and an air base capable of servicing B-52 bombers.

Looking at the need for integration of missile defense for the homeland, Hill added, “Guam is almost a microcosm of that.” Echoing testimony from Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, Hill said the head of U.S. Northern Command wants “sensor domain awareness, now, now, now.”

Looking at one threat particularly, Hill added, it’s as if any “strategic cruise missile attack is going to have to be from a near peer.” Earlier, he mentioned Russian bombers that are capable of launching cruise missiles from Russian territory and strike the United States, a threat VanHerck mentioned in his testimony last week.

In his opening remarks, Hill said all warfighting commanders want “all domain awareness” to detect, control and engage. They “want to see what’s coming down on them … what’s in front of them, what’s on the surface” of the sea and if possible, threats from undersea.

Looking to the future, Hill said 80 percent of the $8.9 billion MDA budget request “is going into [research, development, test and evaluation].” Now entering his third year as director, he said the agency’s priorities include the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor [HBTSS], which provides targeting information, and the Standard Missile 6.

After those two capabilities comes the next generation interceptor [for ballistic missiles], which is fully funded in the request. Hill added that with the glide phase interceptor, the third top priority, he “wanted to make sure it was squarely” in the budget sent to Congress.

The threats now come from ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft and unmanned systems. To deter and defend, “we have to, by default, look at the whole threat space. It’s not simple anymore,” Hill said.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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