The United States military is testing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system in Guam as it eyes possible threats from China.
The tests are part of the US military’s buildup in the Asia-Pacific region aimed at countering Beijing, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
Guam is a US territory located some 1,800 miles from China. Around 190,000 US civilians and military personnel are on the island, which houses the closest American military bases to China that are in US territory.
China has recently tested a missile with a hypersonic warhead, and has bombers with sea-skimming cruise missiles, which both present a threat to Guam. The Iron Dome is less effective against cruise missiles than its usual targets, and the system will be an interim solution for the US bases, the report said.
The US bought two Iron Dome batteries from Israel for $373 million in 2019. The first was delivered in late 2020 and the second in January 2021. The US military has been working to integrate the system into its air defense array since receiving the batteries, and conducted its first test of the system during the summer of 2021.
Legislation that Congress passed in 2019 required the deployment of the system to an operational theater by the end of 2021; the second battery remains on the US mainland. The Guam tests are set to last until December, the Wall Street Journal reported.
US military planners are preparing other missile defense measures, such as for protection against ballistic missiles from space. In addition to China, US allies Japan and South Korea are preparing new missile defense systems.
The US Army’s 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command first announced the Iron Dome deployment to Guam last month, calling it a “temporary, experimental deployment.” The statement said the army had no plans to conduct live fire drills with the system.
The Iron Dome system, which was first developed in Israel but was expanded significantly with US funding, has been in operational use for nearly a decade in Israel, principally against short-range rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, but also along the Syrian border. It represents the lowest tier of the country’s multi-leveled air defense array, joined by the mid-range David’s Sling, and the long-range Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 missile systems.
The Iron Dome has intercepted thousands of projectiles in its 10 years in service, and has been credited with saving hundreds of lives since it was first deployed in 2011.
The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pass legislation that will provide Israel with $1 billion for the system in September, after the funding was removed from a government spending bill amid pressure from a small group of progressive lawmakers, generating controversy.