NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The Pentagon is moving ahead with new radar systems in the South Pacific in response to the growing threat of Chinese missile strikes against the major U.S. military hub on the Pacific island of Guam.
The Pentagon announced a contract award last month for a new tactical over-the-horizon radar system to be built on the island nation of the Republic of Palau. The Navy contract announced Dec. 28 is for $118 million to build reinforced concrete pads and foundations for the radar and will be done by the California-based construction company Gilbane Federal.
The same day, Lockheed Martin won a contract from the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency for $527.7 million to expand missile defenses on Guam with what the Pentagon is calling the Aegis Guam System.
The defense buildup on Guam comes as a Chinese aircraft carrier recently sailed near the U.S. island territory.
The Liaoning and several other warships conducted exercises near Guam that included an estimated 260 aircraft sorties in the region, according to defense sources. The warships were near Guam from Dec. 17 to Dec. 27 and were closely monitored by U.S. military assets in the region.
The highly effective Aegis missile defense system has been deployed on Aegis warships for years. The system on Guam will be the ground-based version known as Aegis Ashore, which will be powered by an advanced phased-array radar system called SPY-7 that can monitor air and space in all directions. The missile interceptors will be SM-3s, which can be used against ballistic missiles, and possibly SM-6s to target cruise missiles.
The target date for completion of the Guam Aegis System is 2027.
The Missile Defense Agency announced in March that it plans to spend nearly $900 million to upgrade Guam’s defenses, including the Aegis system and the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which is currently deployed on Guam along with a temporary deployment of the Israeli-made Iron Dome defense system. Patriot missile defenses will also be added to provide a “layered” defense against aircraft and missiles.
China has deployed a new intermediate-range missile, the DF-26, that state media has called a “Guam killer” because it can strike targets on the U.S. island. A report by the National Institute for Public Policy said the road-mobile DF-26 “is China’s first precision strike capability with both conventional and lower-yield nuclear variants capable of striking Guam.”
U.S. military assets at the Guam hub are projected to take a major role in any future defense of Taiwan against an attack from the mainland. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command war planners anticipate that a conflict with China over Taiwan will involve Chinese missile strikes on Guam, which hosts U.S. bombers such as the B-52, B-2 and B-1.
Recent satellite photos published by EurAsian Times revealed that China is practicing missile strikes in the Xinjiang desert using targets built in the shape of Guam, with targets that included mock-ups of U.S. aircraft carriers and destroyers.
Beijing posted online in 2020 a military video showing a simulated attack on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
Palau, which is about 800 miles from Guam, is used for military exercises, including a recent Patriot missile defense exercise.
The tactical mobile over-the-horizon radar system, known as TACMOR, is expected to greatly boost surveillance of the region for the U.S. military. The high-technology radar uses advanced computer capabilities to extend radar coverage thousands of miles beyond conventional radar.
Along with TACMOR, the Navy is building communications infrastructure to transmit the radar’s data to a remote operations center that will then send the data to U.S. and allied military forces in real time. The installation is slated for completion by 2026.
Congress has pressed the Pentagon to bolster defenses on Guam, and the recently passed defense authorization bill for fiscal 2023 mandated building an integrated air and missile defense system for the island.
China wants the moon, NASA chief warns
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson recently warned that China’s space effort to send astronauts to the moon could result in China making territorial claims to Earth’s sole natural satellite.
“It is a fact: We’re in a space race,” said Mr. Nelson, a former astronaut and onetime Democratic senator from Florida. “And it is true that we better watch out that they don’t get to a place on the moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, ‘Keep out, we’re here. This is our territory.’”
Analysts note that China has made wide-ranging territorial claims on the South China Sea, claiming 90% of the strategic waterway as its own territory under a vague historical claim called the “Nine-Dash Line.”
“If you doubt [Chinese designs on the moon], look at what they did with the Spratly Islands,” Mr. Nelson said.
China reclaimed an estimated 3,200 acres of disputed islands in the sea and several years ago began deploying anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on some of the islands.
Chinese state media reacted harshly to Mr. Nelson’s remarks, made to Politico, insisting that China is not in a space race with the United States. The Chinese Communist Party-affiliated outlet China Daily dismissed Mr. Nelson’s remarks and stated that all China’s activities in space are aimed at national social, economic and technological development.
“We don’t take part in a space race with any other countries because competition in this regard is meaningless,” said Yang Yuguang, a space industry observer in Beijing and vice chair of the International Astronautical Federation’s space transportation committee. “If some people are so fond of a space race, then it is their own space race, and we will not get involved.”
But one national security space analyst said of the Chinese denials: “Don’t let them kid you. … There is a geopolitical aspect to it as well, including a ‘Nine-Dash Line’ style territory grab.”
NASA recently completed a moon mission with the Artemis 1 that sent an unmanned Orion space capsule around the moon. The space agency plans to land astronauts on the moon as part of plans for a permanent human presence.
The moon could provide space explorers with an easier jumping off point to further planetary missions.
China plans to land astronauts on the moon by the end of the decade and as part of the program has already sent robotic landers to collect samples. The program is under the control of the People’s Liberation Army, and space analysts have said that Beijing could use the moon to conduct space-based attacks on satellites.
The Pentagon‘s new Space Force is preparing defenses in space extending to the moon and beyond, according to a recent report by the Air Force Research Laboratory. The force said it is studying defenses for so-called cislunar space — the volume of space outside of geosynchronous Earth orbit and within the moon’s gravitational pull.
The defenses were outlined in a memorandum of understanding between the Space Force and NASA last year. The report was made public in June 2021 shortly after China and Russia announced plans for a joint international research station to be built on the moon.
The extension means the Space Force will develop surveillance tasks for what the military calls “space domain awareness” — spy systems used for both defensive and offensive operations in space war.
Space Force doctrine states that “humankind has changed, and our potential adversaries’ actions have significantly increased the likelihood of warfare in the space domain.”
The U.S. Space Force “now has an even greater surveillance task for space domain awareness (SDA) in that region, but its current capabilities and architecture are limited by technologies and an architecture designed for a legacy mission,” the memo stated. It noted that American space troops must now “provide the resources necessary to protect and defend vital U.S. interests in and beyond Earth orbit.”
• Follow Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.