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13 Sep, 2023 02:49

Pentagon clearing jungle for new base near China

Washington is seeking to grow its network of military installations across Asia
Pentagon clearing jungle for new base near China

The US Air Force is stripping away tracts of jungle in Micronesia to make room for new airfields, a senior commander said, noting the move is part of plans to bolster American forces in the Indo-Pacific.

Speaking to reporters at an event hosted by the Air and Space Forces Association, Pacific Air Forces Commander General Kenneth Wilsbach described efforts to refurbish defunct US air bases – including a World War II-era installation on Tinian, a small island near Guam.

“We're going to be clearing out the jungle [on Tinian, and] we're going to be resurfacing some of the surfaces there so that we will have a fairly large and very functional Agile Combat Employment base, an additional base to be able to operate from and we have several other projects like that around the region that we'll be getting after,” Wilsbach said on Monday.

To accomplish that goal, the Air Force has requested additional funding from lawmakers in its 2024 budget proposal, the general added, saying the new bases would be part of a “hub-and-spoke” network across Asia intended to “deter” Beijing.

“Every single additional airfield that I can operate from… in a contingency or crisis or a conflict is another airfield that China has to put into their targeting folders, and then allocate resources toward them, which dilutes their ability to shut us completely down,” he continued.

Though President Joe Biden recently declared that his administration does not seek to “contain China,” US officials have repeatedly described Beijing as America’s top rival. Since he took office in 2021, Biden has approved near-monthly transits of the disputed Taiwan Strait by US warships, while the Pentagon is pushing to dramatically expand its presence in the Asia-Pacific. 

Citing advances in Chinese military capabilities, Wilsbach said the People’s Liberation Army had “improved a lot over the last few decades,” arguing that Washington must “enhance warfighting advantage; advance theater posture; strengthen alliances and partnerships; and shape the information environment” in order to keep up.

“We want to continue to evolve so that we enhance our warfighting capabilities with the primary objective of being to deter violence in the Indo-Pacific, but if that deterrence doesn't work, we have to be ready to be able to win. And so the way that we will be doing that is modernizing our force,” he said. 

Located on an island some 110 miles north of Guam, the Tinian military installation previously served as the largest US B-29 bomber base during World War II, and has since hosted periodic Navy and Marine wargames. Washington maintains a major naval base in Guam, a strategic island in the Western Pacific.