- The U.S. began building access to World War II-era military bases in the Pacific in 2023 amid preparation for a potential China conflict.
- The U.S. has made “significant progress” toward reclaiming the Tinian North airfield from which the U.S. launched its strategic bombers against Japan during WWII, Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, told Japanese news outlet Nikkei.
- China’s defense ministry said Thursday the Asia-Pacific should be on “high alert” as the U.S. expands its military footprint in the region, Reuters reported.
The U.S. began resuscitating major World War II-era military sites in the Pacific in 2023 amid a sweeping pivot toward preparation for a potential China conflict.
Earlier in December, a U.S. Air Force general said the U.S. has made “significant progress” toward reclaiming the Tinian North airfield on the Marianas island chain from which the U.S. launched its strategic bombers against Japan during WWII, Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported. The plan, which has not been officially declared by the Department of Defense (DOD), reflects a trend of expanding and repositioning U.S. troops in the Pacific region as the Pentagon promises to deter China and, if necessary, confront threats to the U.S.
“If you pay attention in the next few months, you will see significant progress, especially at Tinian North,” Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, told Nikkei.
The airfield “has extensive pavement underneath the overgrown jungle. We’ll be clearing that jungle out between now and summertime,” Wilsbach said, adding that the structure will be “extensive” once completed, but did not say when that would occur.
Access to the airfield will support the Air Force’s strategy to disperse aircraft throughout the Indo-Pacific and ensure better survivability of assets against China’s missile threat, a shift from Cold War posturing, Nikkei reported. U.S. Army Air Forces abandoned the strip after the war, although the U.S. still claims territorial control of the Northern Mariana Islands.
“You create a targeting problem, and you may actually take some hits, but you still have preponderance of your forces still creating effect,” Wilsbach told Nikkei.
Tinian lies 3,700 miles west of Hawaii and just 124 miles north of the U.S. territory of Guam.
Hard-fought victories in Tinian, Guam and another island, Saipan, against Japanese occupiers enabled the U.S. to conduct devastating bombing raids with B-29 Superfortress bombers on the Japanese homeland, including the March 10, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo that killed as many as 100,000 people, according to CNN. A B-29 took off from Tinian’s North Field on Aug. 6, 1945, to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and another three days later conducted the bombing of Nagasaki from Tinian, ushering in the nuclear age.
Now the U.S. is focused on a new threat: China.
President Joe Biden said the U.S. is in its “strongest position in decades” to counter the Chinese threat in his 2023 State of the Union speech.
“Before I came to office, the story was about how the People’s Republic of China was increasing its power and America was falling in the world,” Biden said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “Not anymore.”
China’s defense ministry said Thursday the Asia-Pacific should be on “high alert” as the U.S. expands its military footprint in the region following reports the Pentagon plans to revive the Tinian airfield, according to Reuters.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will safeguard Beijing’s maritime sovereignty and security in the region, maintaining a close watch on U.S. military activities, a spokesperson said.
“The United States continues to strengthen its Asia-Pacific deployments, this is full of a Cold War mindset,” Chinese defense ministry spokesperson, Senior Col. Wu Qian, said on Thursday, according to Reuters. “Its goal is for its own selfish gains and to maintain its hegemony. Its nature is to stoke confrontation.”
The DOD referred the Daily Caller News Foundation to previous affirmations of the department’s efforts “for peace, stability, and deterrence in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
Secretary Austin said it best at the Reagan National Defense Forum: in a decisive decade, 2023 has been a decisive year for implementing U.S. defense strategy in the Indo-Pacific.
And we’re going to keep delivering in 2024. https://t.co/eq0EWy73Go
— Dr. Ely Ratner (@ASD_IndoPacific) December 27, 2023
In January, the Marine Corps formally opened its first new base in 70 years, known as Camp Blaz, on Guam, which is roughly equidistant between Japan and Taiwan, CNN reported. Plans to establish the base originated during the Obama administration as a means of relocating Marines from the Japanese island of Okinawa, where their presence has stirred up local opposition.
“Forward, persistent presence is key to the regional security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz is a critical part of that. More than that, it shows our undivided relationship with the government of Japan,” former Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger said at the opening ceremony.
Blaz will eventually serve as a training hub for Marines aiming to guard allies, critical sea lanes and Pacific islands in the event of a Chinese invasion, according to CNN.
Around the same time, the Marine Corps began a overhauling its presence on Okinawa by establishing “Marine Littoral Regiments,” small groups of about 2,000 troops, Reuters reported. The strategy calls for arming the roughly 18,000 Marines deployed to Okinawa with missiles and drones, intended to provide a more nimble reconnaissance and long-range strike capability against China’s broad maritime threat and increase their maneuverability if they are called upon to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion.
The U.S. military controlled Okinawa after WWII, but Washington handed it back to Japan in 1972, according to Reuters. Having American Marine units scattered across the island would be the first time U.S. troops have returned since then.
On Nov. 15, the Marine Corps redesignated the 12th Marine Regiment as the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment during a ceremony at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, according to a press release. The 12th MLR will be permanently stationed in Okinawa by 2025, Breaking Defense reported.
Then in January the U.S. and the Philippines announced a pact permitting the U.S. to rotate troops through additional military sites in strategic regions while China doubled down on unrecognized territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea, CNN reported. While the arrangement, based on a 2014 agreement, does not allow for a permanent presence of U.S. troops, it gives DOD access to Philippine bases for joint training, building military facilities and pre-positioning equipment.
The Pentagon revealed the four new locations in April: the Camilo Osias navy base and Lal-lo airport in the Cagayan province and Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Isabela province — all of which face toward Taiwan — and the island of Balabac off Palawan — near the Spratly Islands, which China claims to control, according to Reuters. Local opposition to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s decision to open up to the U.S. over concerns of drawing the Philippines into conflict with China delayed the final announcement.
A U.S. territory until the end of WWII, after both nations worked to defeat imperial Japan, the Philippines quickly cemented a mutual defense agreement with the U.S. after gaining independence that persisted through the Cold War, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report. But, the Philippine Senate failed to renew the lease agreement in 1992, resulting in an expulsion of U.S. troops.
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