The U.S. is testing the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system in Guam, where it will likely be part of a multi-tiered array designed to protect the area against possible attacks by China, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
“If we can’t defend Guam—the air base and the other things there—it’s really hard to project power into the Pacific,” said Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
Guam is a U.S. territory in the Pacific that has bases for approximately 190,000 American civilians and servicemen. Its Air Force, Navy and Marine units are about 1,800 miles from China, on the closest military bases to the People’s Republic on American soil.
Among other weapons in its arsenal, China possesses a growing fleet of bombers able to launch sea-skimming cruise missiles that could reach Guam.
Congress ordered the purchase of two Iron Dome systems for around $373 million in 2019 with the provision that one of them should be deployed in an operational theater by this fiscal year.
While the Iron Dome has proved highly effective in shooting down rockets from Gaza, cruise missiles pose more of a challenge. They are a harder target than Palestinian rockets because they fly on flat, direct paths that are more difficult for missile-defense radars to detect, and some travel at far greater speeds.
“Iron Dome is very much an interim solution,” and wouldn’t be effective against threats from the fastest cruise missiles, Karako said.
But the U.S. needs an interim solution, and Iron Dome could be it. For example, it has demonstrated the capability to intercept CJ-20 missiles that the Pentagon says could threaten Guam if fired from Chinese bombers. In August, the U.S. Army destroyed eight cruise-missile surrogate targets in a test of the Iron Dome at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.