Makeover to turn Guam into key U.S. fortress

by Dario Agnote

Kyodo News

HAGATNA, Guam — The United States plans to fortify Guam, upgrading its military infrastructure on the island into a strategic staging post that would allow rapid access to potential flash points in the Pacific region.

More service members, including 9,182 marines, soldiers and their dependents from Okinawa, will be relocated to this island, as will more than 9,000 transient service ranks, mainly from navy carrier strike groups.

The “overarching purpose” of beefing up Guam as a military fortress is “to provide mutual defense, deter aggression and dissuade coercion in the Western Pacific region, according to a draft impact report recently released by the U.S. Defense Department.

The buildup will allow U.S. forces to respond to regional threats and crises in a “flexible” and “timely manner” as they work to “defend U.S., Japan and allied interests,” the study says. “Moving these forces to Guam would place them on the furthest forward element of sovereign U.S. territory in the Pacific, thereby maximizing their freedom of action.”

According to the report, the United States envisions Guam as a “local command and control structure” manned, equipped, trained and sustained by a modern logistics infrastructure.

The relocation and buildup cost, including expansion of infrastructure needed to maintain a permanent base for marines and U.S. Army troops on Guam and Tinian, an island 160 km to the northeast, is pegged at $12 billion. Japan has agreed to chip in $6.09 billion of the total.

The plan entails “increased operational activities,” more frequent berthing by aircraft carriers and other warships, building aviation training ranges and upgrading harbors, wharves and ports.

Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base will be expanded to include marine air elements. A new marine base will be built “right next door,” the study says.

The U.S. also plans to expand its live fire training ranges on Tinian, where about 200 or more marines could “realistically train” with their weapons and equipment “without restrictions.”

A U.S. Army Air and Missile Defense Task Force is also proposed for Guam to protect the island and U.S. forces there against the threat of ballistic missiles.

The U.S military is beefing up its presence on Guam after allies in the Pacific — the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, South Korea and Singapore — turned down U.S. requests for permanent basing of U.S. forces on their soil.

Already concerns are being raised over plans to transform Guam into “a multiservice military base.”

“Some of the areas that they’re planning to convert into firing ranges include pristine limestone forested areas that will require some clearing of native forest trees,” biologist Jeffrey Quitugua said.

Judith Guthertz, a senator in the Guam Legislature who chairs the military buildup committee, is concerned over “land condemnation or land takings.”

“That is a very emotional issue for the people of Guam because of what happened after World War II, where the federal government condemned so much land on Guam. We don’t want a repeat of that,” she said.

Henry Simpson, general manager of the Guam Racing Federation, said the U.S. military aims to take his race track without even consulting him.

“They want to run over our land,” he said.