June 20, 2022

Why this tiny island in the Pacific may be ground zero in a war with China

Source: Task and Purpose

Journalist: Jeff Shogol

In a war with China, the American territory of Guam would likely become the 21st Century Pearl Harbor.

Stacie Pettyjohn, a defense strategy and wargaming expert, said that most of the wargames involving a Chinese invasion of Taiwan that she has led have begun with the team playing China attacking American bases on Guam and elsewhere in the Pacific to prevent the U.S. military from bringing significant combat power to the early stages of the fight.

“The opening big blow is in line with Chinese military doctrine – its counter-intervention strategy – in terms of seizing the offensive and also just trying to launch a knockout blow in the opening phases of a fight,” said Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, D.C.


Pettyjohn has run Pentagon-sponsored wargames both at CNAS and the RAND Corporation since 2014. In Taiwan scenarios, the team playing China typically hits Guam with a massive barrage of ballistic and cruise missiles armed with submunitions to take out Andersen Air Force Base – and possibly the U.S. airfield on the island of Tinian that is being expanded – and then H-6 bombers fire their long-range cruise missiles to sink ships in Apra Harbor and attack fuel storage facilities, she said. Then they launch follow-up attacks on Guam to prevent the U.S. military engineers from repairing damage to airfields and other installations.

“There are concerns about escalation and hitting U.S. territory,” Pettyjohn told Task & Purpose. “Most of the red teams [enemy forces] recognize that, and many of them do typically assume that the United States will intervene on the side of Taiwan. The operational advantages of destroying key American bases and logistics nodes, in particular those on Guam, outweigh the risks.”

Read the full story and more from Task & Purpose.


  • Stacie Pettyjohn

    Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Stacie Pettyjohn is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her areas of expertise include defense strategy, post...