The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is finishing the architecture options for a new Guam-based missile defense system, which may include a hybrid mix of current capabilities.

Speaking during a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on June 22, MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill emphasized that Guam’s topology presents a challenge for adding missile defense systems and that, in conversations, both he and Commander of Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) Adm. John Aquilino agreed they are agnostic on what the final system is.

Vice Adm. John Hill, Director of the Missile Defense Agency. (Photo: MDA)
Vice Adm. John Hill, Director of the Missile Defense Agency. (Photo: MDA)

“We’re system agnostic…because what we know we need is the architecture that’s got sensing capability, that’s got a resilient fire control and command network, and that has weapons associated with it. So let’s go build the story around that and then we’ll figure out what the systems are,” Hill said.

Hill noted he does not yet have answers to initial questions about the specific system and lead service to field the Guam defense.

“I really don’t know at this point because we’re not there yet, we need to come through that architecture work and we need to make a decision that hits [Aquilino’s] timeline.”

Hill said Aquilino’s timeline for Guam defense draws them into a capabilities-based design approach, which means looking at systems that can handle the mix of threats including ballistic, hypersonic glide, and cruise missiles. 

“So, automatically it drives you to the multi-mission systems…and there’s a handful of those regional systems that have that capability. So, how do we get that onto the island, tie that to the sensors and then what weapons should we use?”

Hill said before attending the event he was working on the final review of MDA’s report to Congress on the Guam missile defense issue.

He underscored his goal is to make sure the secretary of defense and the deputy secretary of defense have “maximum trade space on where we’re going to go. And so we haven’t gone and said, ‘you must have this system.’ But we do know we need sensors, fire control and weapons.”

Hill said the department is examining solutions by starting with what is based on Guam today, what threats are projected in the future, and then look at “what systems exist that have that capability now and what systems that have that capability or don’t have a program of record that’s going to address that. And there’s a number of them, so that’s where we will go.”

He admitted he does not think anyone will be surprised on what the final architecture and investment should be, “but we do need to do the homework, starting with the threat and how systems that exist today – how well they play in those three main mission areas: ballistic, cruise, hypersonic.”

Hill noted part of the department’s report to Congress on the system architectures will be to lay down the detect-control-engage options, list existing systems and how well they do in those areas and what is needed to pull them together.

He said the final result may very well be a hybrid system combining multiple capabilities that currently exist and not simply replicate the Aegis Ashore system with a naval-style deckhouse put on land.

“So that’s why a lead service question today is kind of just fun for me because I don’t know what this is going to be yet. I think it’ll end up being a hybrid of some sort,” he continued.

Hill said when looking at the survivability of a Guam defense system, thanks to work on previous Aegis Ashore and Launch on Remote tests where the sensors are separated from interceptor launchers, he can imagine the processing capability of the Aegis combat system being underground or on some mobile platform.

“So, there are ways to do that and it is not a big stretch. When you look at how we’ve gone from a ship-based application of Aegis and land-based and how we separated the launchers from that deckhouse, it’s not a big stretch and it’s not new science to separate out the radar arrays from the combat system core functions and you can decide where you want those.”

Hill said this also carries over for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and Patriot system with the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System.

“So we’ll figure out how we’re going to work all that.”

Hill also addressed how the agency plans to spend $40 million in long-lead procurement funds the agency is seeking in its fiscal year 2022 budget request for the Defense of Guam mission.

“It would be for those things we know would apply to all things. So it could be display systems, it could be some sort of flexible launching system because you know you’re going to need that while we work the details of how you lay down the sensor architecture in a pretty tough place, which means different heights and things like that. So, it won’t just be some deckhouse.”

“A lot of folks just think Aegis Ashore right away. But that might not be sufficient for what we need.  And so we’ll come through all that.”