The United States is bolstering its defense capabilities in the Mariana Islands, including Guam, in the face of missile threats from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and to fulfill its commitment to Indo-Pacific allies and partners. Efforts include military exercises and the planned build-up of military assets in the archipelago.
“The growing PLA long-range strike capabilities, especially its expanding array of ballistic and cruise missiles, have increased the level of threat to U.S. bases around the Indo-Pacific, especially those located along the First Island Chain,” Dr. Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told FORUM. The U.S. defense buildup on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands community of Tinian will show Washington’s regard for regional peace and stability, he said.
A pair of defense exercises were held in 2023 on Guam and Tinian. In February, about 2,000 Airmen, Marines, and Sailors from Australia, Japan and the U.S. participated in Exercise Cope North, which concentrated on airborne integration for large-force and agile combat employment, and training for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. (Pictured: Japan Air Self-Defense Force and U.S. Air Force aircraft fly above the Pacific Ocean near Guam during Cope North 2023 in February.) In March, exercise Agile Reaper 23-1 focused on combat strategies including swiftly moving aircraft to smaller Western Pacific airfields in case of a missile attack or other to avoid conflict.
Guam has two U.S. bases: Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base. In January 2023, the U.S. Marine Corps officially opened Camp Blaz, a 16.2 square kilometer installation on Guam that is expected to host 5,000 Marines relocated from Okinawa, Japan. The U.S. aims to spend U.S. $1.5 billion to bolster Guam’s air defenses in fiscal year 2024, much of the expenditure for missile defense, The Economist magazine reported.
Tinian, a U.S. commonwealth less than 200 kilometers northeast of Guam in the Northern Mariana Islands, is the future site of Tinian Divert Airfield and an aircraft parking apron, slated for completion in 2025, reported the Pacific Island Times, a Guam newspaper. This U.S. $162 million investment by the U.S. Department of Defense is intended to serve as an alternative operating location to Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, should it come under attack or otherwise be out of operation.
“The buildup on Guam and Tinian fits well within the broader strategy of dispersing forces in order to improve their resilience against being neutralized by the PLA if they’re concentrated heavily in just a few locations,” Koh said.
Tinian is also expected to host a live-fire training range for U.S. troops.
“At the core of our Indo-Pacific strategy is building connections with allies, partners and friends within and beyond the region, to create and support what we call a latticework of strong and mutually reinforcing coalitions to build collective capacity and more innovatively tackle our shared problems together,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
IMAGE CREDIT: CHARLES T. FULTZ/U.S. AIR FORCE