WASHINGTON — The first wave of defenses designed to counter complex missile threats against Guam will include radars, launchers, interceptors, and a command-and-control system, and they’ll be place on the island next year, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency director said this week.
The MDA asked for more than $800 million in its fiscal 2024 budget request, released Monday, to develop and begin constructing its architecture to defend Guam against a range of threats including ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles. Nearly half of that money would continue the design and development of the architecture.
Another $38.5 million would upgrade the MDA’s Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications program to support Guam’s defense.
The agency is investing in the architecture, but it is also partnered with the Army and Navy. The sea service will provide technology and capability from its Aegis weapon system and has jurisdiction over the land where the assets will be placed.
The Army could not readily provide a top line of its portion of the FY24 funding needed to supply its share of the equipment to Guam, but it will deliver three Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensors, or LTAMDS, as well as an assortment of Mid-Range Capability missile launchers and Indirect Fires Protection Capability launchers, or IFPC, along with the Northrop Grumman-built Integrated Battle Command System designed to connect the right sensors to the right shooters on the battlefield, according to the Army’s budget office.
The Army plans to procure five total LTAMDS in FY24; the other two will be test assets, the Army’s acquisition chief, Doug Bush, said this week.
While the MDA waits for the Army’s capability to arrive, it is adapting the Aegis system to work specifically on the challenging terrain of Guam, Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the agency’s director, said this week. The system will be differ from what is found on an Aegis ship and from the configuration of Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland, he said.
FY24 funding will cover the installation of four high-end, solid-state, mobile AN/TPY-6 radars, which are new sensors that use technology from the Long Range Discrimination Radar in Clear Space Force Base, Alaska, along the periphery of the island. These radars will provide a 360-degree capability to see threats, Hill said, which is a requirement coming straight from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
The agency is grappling with the mechanical engineering required to take radars that would typically be positioned on a deckhouse of a ship or in a big facility like that in Alaska and put them in an erectable trailer so they can be moved around, Hill said March 15 at the McAleese & Associates conference.
MDA is also developing a command suite using Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications system technology that integrates IBCS and Aegis C2 for ballistic and hypersonic missile threat detection and tracking.
While the first stream of capability will get to the island in 2024, Hill said development will continue to evolve as technology becomes available. Hill stressed there will never be an initial operational capability for the architecture because capability will always evolve.
For example, once the MDA fields a hypersonic glide phase interceptor, it will get incorporated into the architecture. That effort is in a very early stage and won’t be delivered until the early 2030s, Hill said. For now, there is a capability to defeat hypersonic missiles in the terminal phase of flight using current radars and U.S. Navy capability.
The agency faces abundant challenges as it begins to build the architecture on Guam.
“The challenge right now is siting,” Hill said. “We have all the sites identified on the island, and today we know which are the Army sites, we know which are the MDA sites. It’s a Navy island.”
But, he said, there are environmental considerations. “When you think about what we have to do for environmental assessments, just to go land this gear, it puts time into the equation. … Guam is a tourist island.”
Clearing the sites is also difficult, including the need to clear bamboo and flatten land, Hill explained. “Guam has a boatload of expended ordnance on it from World War II,” so part of the effort includes digging down to ensure there’s no ordnance buried, he added.
Other challenging considerations include considering the electromagnetic interference that is possible on the island as well as what the effect land radars might have on, for example, air operations, including medevac helicopters coming to and from the area.
The agency has also committed to beautification as part of the installation on Guam. “We’re going to make launchers look beautiful, and we’re going to put big bubbles over the radars to keep them from looking so lethal because it is a tourist area,” Hill said.
Banking on the Army
Much of the architecture is also riding on Army capability that is in the development process. The service is close to approving full-rate production for IBCS after years of delay.
The Army’s LTAMDS has also struggled through development and has seen several schedule slips. Raytheon Technologies ran into problems building its first prototypes designed to replace the Patriot air defense radars. The LTAMDS program had to adjust the schedule based on system integration challenges and supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
As of last fall, the service was still aiming to deliver four of them by the end of 2023.
The MRC capability that will be fielded in 2023 has made more progress, and Lockheed Martin delivered the first Typhon launcher to the Army late last year, which uses a Navy MK41 Vertical Launching System that will fire both ground-launched SM-6 missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The Army chose Leidos-owned Dynetics to build IFPC prototypes for an enduring system designed to counter both drone and cruise missile threats in 2021.
At the time of the award to Dynetics, the Army wanted the company to deliver prototypes by the fourth quarter of FY22 and a complete system that can integrate with IBCS by the third quarter of FY23.
Dynetics has been quiet about progress, but according to the FY24 Army budget request, the service plans to deliver IFPC to the first platoon at some point in the year. A production decision for IFPC is also due in FY24, according to FY23 budget documents.
For now, Guam has protection against threats that exist today, Hill said. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system is deployed on the island as well as Patriot systems, which protect against ballistic missile threats. Aegis ships are patrolling the area, but that is not a persistent solution.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.