U.S. Army Still Has Big, Problematic Missiles on Guam
Pentagon sent missiles a year ago following North Korean threats
In April 2013, the Pentagon sent the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system—or THAAD—to Guam. A year later, the problematic missiles are still there.
The Army missiles went to Guam after North Korea threatened to nuke American territory. U.S. military bases—including Andersen Air Force Base with its long-range bombers—occupy almost a third of the small Pacific island.
THAAD is designed to intercept ballistic missiles as they fall toward their targets. The complete system includes a truck-mounted launcher and a powerful radar.
The missile system entered Army service in 2008 but has been in development since 1990. The troubled munition needed a decade and 10 test shots to successfully intercept its first target.
THAAD only shot down a medium-range ballistic test target for the first time in 2012 … and has never fired in anger. The Pentagon’s main weapon tester J. Michael Gilmore says the system still only has a “fundamental capability” to do its job.
Translation—THAAD works better in theory than it does in practice.
Last year, the Pentagon considered North Korea’s Musudan medium-range ballistic missiles as the biggest potential threat to Guam. Critics immediately looked at THAAD’s record and questioned whether it could actually shoot down any incoming rockets.
Task Force Talon
At the time, John Pike—the director of GlobalSecurity.org—described THAAD as only an “emergency capability.” He said sending the missiles to Guam was a matter of “better safe than sorry, better something than nothing.”
The island mission, code name Task Force Talon, has continued despite these concerns. On April 1, Battery A, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment arrived to take charge for the next 12 months.
The Pentagon has insisted that the THAAD program is making steady progress. The system successfully intercepted targets during a test last September.
Still, Gilmore said in January that “reliability and maintainability measures”—whether the thing works and can be repaired when it doesn’t—“are still fluctuating greatly between test events.”
The Pentagon has identified 39 separate issues with THAAD and the Army has solved just eight so far. More tests and fixes are already on the schedule through 2017.
In the meantime, North Korea remains a threat. The country’s young premier Kim Jong Un already has a history of provocations.
The increasingly isolated nation made its bold threats last year while the U.S. and South Korea conducted annual exercises. North Korea repeatedly claims that the two countries are training for an invasion.
At the moment, Kim seems content to merely threaten his neighbors. North Korea doesn’t appear to have tried launching any missiles at or anywhere near Guam.
North Korea may not even have any working home-grown rockets that can reach the island. There have been no confirmed tests of the Musudan missile.
In the end, THAAD’s main mission on Guam seems to be giving peace of mind to the islands’ inhabitants. We can only hope the Army works out the kinks before Guam comes under actual attack, should that ever happen.