THE Guam buildup, long left for dead by many, has just received a boost, thanks to a study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The study, entitled “U.S. Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment,” not only emphasizes the further development of Guam as a strategic hub, it actually urges the speeding up of the military buildup on the island.
“The current impasse between the Department of Defense and the Congress is not cost-free in terms of U.S. strategic influence in the region,” the CSIS study warned.
And though the study hints at a possible decrease in the number of Marines relocating to Guam, it also recommends the deployment of more military assets to Guam, not just the Okinawa-based Marines.
One of the recommendations is the stationing of a second squadron of attack submarines to Guam, to supplement the three submarines already based here.
In addition, the study also urges the permanent basing of a bomber squadron on Guam. At present, Andersen Air Force Base’s bomber deployment consists of just rotational bomber units from the mainland. But the study proposes the permanent basing of an entire B-52 squadron to Guam. This would consist of 12 aircraft that would more than double the current existing capability of four B-52s or two B-2s.
The study also condemns an earlier decision to cancel the deployment of Global Hawks to Guam. It stressed the need to add airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets, both manned and unmanned, to Guam because existing ISR assets in the region are more focused on Northeast Asia. This area has grown less critical compared to the more potential flashpoints in Southeast Asia, including the now hotly disputed South China Sea.
The study also endorses the establishment of a defensive missile battery on Guam, something that DOD had been reluctant to commit to in the past. The study pointed out that U.S. bases on Guam are increasingly under threat from ballistic missiles. Thus, there is a need to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) units to ensure the survivability of deployed forces on Guam.
Moreover, the study is proposing the hardening of most U.S. facilities on Guam to increase the survivability of critical infrastructure against threat weapons from, say, North Korea or China. These include hangars, maintenance facilities, fuel systems, command and control facilities, and munitions dumps.
In addition, the study is strongly pushing for the transformation of Guam into some kind of arsenal of democracy in the Pacific by increasing stockpiles of critical ammunition and weapons as well as replenishing prepositioned equipment and supplies.
U.S. forces that are currently forward-deployed would place high demands on critical ammunition in a long tactical fight without resupply from Guam and Hawaii, the nearest sovereign American territories in the Pacific.
The Marines, for instance, are forward-supplied to sustain a fight for just 60 days, and their supplies do not include the full range of critical munitions like precision weapons required to counter overwhelming force.
Forward-deployed forces also rely on equipment such as minesweepers, mobile bridge equipment, and other specialized equipment located in the mainland. It would require weeks to deploy this vital equipment by sea in case of any conflict in our region.
However, this concept of pre-positioning and forward-deploying equipment and supplies would entail additional port capacity and additional storage facilities on our island. The study described basic infrastructure on Guam as outdated, thus it is recommending the prioritization of improvements, focusing on roads and infrastructure improvements such as pipeline protection that would be mission-essential “even if fewer Marines move to Guam from Okinawa.”
These improvements, the study emphasized, will necessitate military construction funding “outside of the wire of DOD facilities.”
In fact, all the additional “non-Marine” deployment of military assets to Guam recommended by the study would require millions of dollars worth of construction.
For example, Guam’s existing infrastructure can only accommodate three attack submarines, but adding three more would require additional facilities. Moreover, the additional submarines would create a larger footprint at Naval Base Guam, possibly creating congestion in the harbor. This would require the construction of more port facilities and housing for the additional submariners and their families as well as the guest workers who will help build the new facilities.
The plan to permanently base a bomber squadron here would also increase the need for housing. While Andersen Air Force Base has excess capacity to house such a unit move, this would still require some new construction for support facilities and upgrades to housing.
More construction can also be expected from the study’s recommendation to increase Andersen’s runway capability as well as the plan to construct an upgraded fuel pipeline at the Air Force base.
Thus, even if the number of Okinawa-based Marines relocated to Guam is cut down further, this could be compensated for by the increase in dollars that a rise in military construction would bring in. And these revenues would go to the island’s private sector in contrast to Section 30 funds that would go to GovGuam, which always manages to waste or mismanage Section 30 money anyway.
Although the study doesn’t explicitly say so, the authors seem to agree on a more diffused re-deployment of the Marines throughout the region. The idea is to have smaller and more widely scattered U.S. forces around the region that would lessen the vulnerability of massed, concentrated U.S. forces to enemy attack, while at the same time confusing the enemy with more American forces in different locations to contend with.
This strategy would indeed mean lesser Marines on Guam but this could also be the buildup scenario that would be more ideal for our island. With less “grunts” and more “specialized” military personnel coming to Guam, the island’s economy could get a bigger boost not only from more sophisticated construction activities (not just rudimentary housing and firing range facilities), but also from higher pay-grade, and thus bigger spending service members who hopefully would be better behaved than the stereotypical Marine rednecks. Hopefully, this would lessen the feared social costs that an increase in military personnel to the island would bring.