The new buildup: Pentagon to further boost forces on Guam and the region

Mara E. Karlin, performing the duties of deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, briefs reporters on the recommendations of the global posture review in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room, Washington, D.C., Nov. 29, 2021. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase, DOD)

The military has already been building up its forces on Guam for the past decade, including the imminent relocation of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

But the latest Global Posture Review, or GPR, just completed by the Pentagon calls for an even bigger buildup of US military forces on Guam and the rest of the Marianas because of the increasing threat from China.

While the Pentagon doesn’t plan to release the GPR to the public yet, Dr. Mara Karlin, performing the duties of deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, held a news briefing Tuesday to share some highlights of the plan.

Although the GPR also deals with other areas in Europe and the Middle East, the focus is clearly the threat from China and the priority is the US military’s Indo-Pacific defense posture.

China has lately been provoking the US and its allies with its statements and actions. China recently sent Taiwan fighter jets scrambling after PLA jets intruded into Taiwanese airspace. China’s PLA also continues to hinder freedom of navigation in the hotly contested South China Sea. And in his statements, Chinese President Xi Jinping has threatened the US and its allies and reaffirmed that it will recapture Taiwan “within this decade.”

With such Chinese hostility, the US military’s Global Posture Review is directing additional cooperation with allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific region to advance initiatives that contribute to regional stability and deter potential military aggression from China.

This has already been practiced on Guam as the island has not only hosted different units of the US military during exercises but also forces from the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, France, Germany, and other allies.

Dr. Karlin said the initiatives also include seeking greater regional access for military partnership activities and enhancing infrastructure in Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Although she had no comment on the matter, a reporter asked during the news briefing whether the Pentagon has any new military-related projects in Palau. The US military has already been increasing its presence in Palau and the Palau government has even offered to host a full-fledged military base in their country.

And a new report from Australia has called for greater integration with US forces under a “collective deterrence strategy” aimed at China’s rise which involves giving Australian military forces access to US bases on Guam.

Dr. Karlin also specifically mentioned a range of infrastructure improvements in Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Australia.

“Those will include things more broadly like logistics facilities, fuel storage, munitions storage, and airfield upgrades. So, we’re doing a lot that will hopefully come to fruition in the coming years,” she said.

Facilities-wise, Guam has already hosted the testing of the Iron Dome missile defense system and there are still proposals to deploy more missile defense systems like the Patriot system and the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system that the military wants to put underground as a pre-emptive measure in case of a Chinese first strike.

In addition, there are moves to develop Tinian as “a divert” airfield in case US airfields on Guam are made inoperable by an enemy first strike.

Logistics-wise, there are also plans to further develop Guam as a logistics center to solve the “tyranny of distance” and enable the US military to forward-deploy its assets with the assurance that Guam will be there to provide supplies, fuel, munitions, and even maintenance capability.

“I’d say we have a much more robust understanding of the baseline, and a thoughtful, rigorous disciplinary framework to help us get after how strategy changes, we’ll need to shape posture. I think on the Indo-Pacific, this is kind of a return to we’re moving the needle a bit. And what I’d like to think is over the coming years, you will see that needle move more and more,” Dr. Karlin said.

What all this additional buildup means is more federal and military revenue for Guam which comes just in time as the island’s primary industry of tourism has yet to fully recover.

Dr. Karlin hinted that the Pentagon is now building up its budget for the new force posture.

“We are in the throes of building our budget right now. And I would say the Global Posture Review has absolutely informed those conversations. And so, I hope that as it comes together, and is published. You’ll be able to point and see kind of a down payment on some important pieces there,” she said.