Iron Dome 'not the answer' to Guam's air- and missile-defense requirement

By Jason Sherman  / December 5, 2021

SIMI VALLEY, CO -- The Army's maiden deployment of its Israeli-built Iron Dome air and missile defense system is wrapping up, capping a deployment to Guam -- billed as an experiment -- that began in early October to exercise transporting the system and setting up for operation but not conducting any live firings.

Adm. John Aquilino, head of U.S. Pacific Command, provided an update on deployment of the Iron Dome battery by the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, which he said he approved earlier this year in part to meet a statutory requirement to deploy the system that he said is not capable enough to meet near-term advanced threats forecast to target Guam.

“Iron Dome is about getting ready to be packed up,” Aquilino told reporters Dec. 4 on the sidelines of the Reagan National Defense Forum here. “It was experimentation that was directed [by law]. We chose to do it on Guam for a variety of reasons.”

The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act required the Defense Department to deploy an “interim cruise missile defense capability” by Sept. 30, 2021.

The admiral said the Iron Dome is not being considered to meet any of the requirements INDOPACOM says are needed to provide a 360-degree defense of Guam against advanced Chinese threats in the middle of this decade.

“It's not the answer,” Aquilino said of Iron Dome. “The span of the threats is broad from cruise missiles to ballistic missiles to hypersonic missiles. So, we need a system that can execute the protection mission.”

The Missile Defense Agency has proposed potential architectures for a new Guam air and missile defense system that are expected to be a "hybrid" of currently fielded U.S. systems, including Navy Aegis and the Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS).

Iron Dome “provides some small portion of protection against the broad spectrum of threats,” Aquilino said. “It's not the end state of the defense of Guam by any means, based on the expansive amounts of capabilities that I describe. It proved its value when utilized in Israel against those threats.”

During a conflict last May, Hamas and other groups launched more than 4,400 rockets toward Israeli targets. Iron Dome intercepted nearly 90% of these rockets, according to a letter Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent Senate leaders earlier this year, urging additional funding for Iron Dome. According to the Congressional Research Service, Iron Dome is effective against short-range threats, between 2.5 miles and 43 miles.

“When U.S. Army Pacific came to me and made the recommendation that we deploy it, I approved it to determine transportability; how do we set up; what effectiveness would it have. So, it was really an experiment to learn, not a solution for the requirements that I have levied for the defense of Guam,” Aquilino said.

“There were not any live fires,” he added. “It was set up and operational . . . it was all put together and rigged and ready to shoot. But the Army did not do any live-fire events.”