How does U.S. missile defense system protect Guam?

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Guam Homeland Security Advisor George Charfauros spoke to PNC to give us a better understanding of the unclassified capabilities of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

Guam – Homeland Security Advisor George Charfauros has repeatedly said how confident he is in the U.S. missile defense system.

Last week North Korea launched a short-range missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. What if they actually launched a missile that threatened Guam? How does our missile defense system really work? Charfauros spoke to PNC to give us a better understanding of at least the unclassified capabilities of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. He says it all begins with detection.

“The first thing that happens is that there are a bunch of other satellites that are tracking the movement of not just the missile launchers but troop movement in general,” said Charfauros.

These satellites help the U.S. military to determine what kind of action North Korea may be preparing for. Then there are satellites that are specifically focussed on tracking missile launches and they do this first by detecting large heat signatures.

“The minute a rocket engine ignites it puts out a bunch of heat and flames and that is picked up by the satellite,” said Charfauros.

The second this happens the satellite sends out a warning to the various assets of the missile defense system, Pacific Command and Northern Command.

Charfauros says once a missile is launched it could take anywhere from 14 to 18 minutes depending on the trajectory of the missile. All ICBMS begin by shooting straight up into the air. By minute two or three the missile will begin angling or turning into the direction where it is intended to go. This is when satellites and radars can begin tracking and calculating it’s landing point, something they can usually determine by about minute three or four. “And then the radar refines everything and they come up with what’s called a targeting solution so they can say okay the best platform to engage to knock this out of the sky is the Aegis or the THAAD or a combination of both.”

By the 14th or 15th minute they will know for sure if it is headed towards Guam. That’s when the alarm will be sounded. Charfauros says that if it ever comes to this, residents should shelter in place and wait until the all clear is given.

Despite the shelter in place plans, Charfauros is confident that no missile will penetrate the U.S, missile defense system. He says this is because there are layers to the system. Before a missile even gets near Guam there are numerous ships in the waters around Japan, Korea and near Guam equipped with the Aegis system that can intercept missiles. Much like the USS John Paul Jones that successfully intercepted a test missile during an exercise off the coast of Hawaii just last week.

However last week’s launch over Japan has people wondering why Japan didn’t shoot the missile out of the sky. Charfauros says this is because they knew the trajectory of the missile would drop it into the open ocean.

“Why waste our missile? You know missiles are expensive and so if we just fired it and we know that it’s gonna miss us, you don’t want to fire a missile to take that missile out of the sky,” said Charfauros.

In addition, Charfauros says that the U.S. can learn more by watching the missile to see how it performs and can even possibly recover what’s left of the missile after it lands in the ocean.

Ultimately, Charfauros says he retains his confidence in the U.S. missile defense system and he points to things like the recent tests of the Aegis system and the THAAD battery. The THAAD is now 15 for 15 when testing its capability to intercept missiles.