Tinian Airfield Comes Back to Life After 70 Years in the Jungle

Amidst the backdrop of World War II, Tinian Airfield in 1945 served as the world’s busiest airfield, where hundreds of B-29s congregated for the final bombing campaign of Japan. The roar of thousands of Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclones, among the largest aircraft piston engines ever made, filled the air. The recent resurgence of Tinian as a dispersal airfield aimed at deterring China marks a significant revival of the colossal facility. The undertaking is overseen by Pacific Air Forces Commander, General Ken Wilsbach, who is spearheading its reincarnation. The airfield complex, situated in the U.S. Territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, is part of a broader effort to disperse and harden infrastructure as a means to dissuade Chinese aggression in the Western Pacific.

The Tinian complex holds strategic significance within the Second Island Chain, encompassing Palau, Ulithi Atoll of the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, as well as Tinian and Saipan – the two main islands of the U.S. Territory. This chain is pivotal for assembling and projecting force to thwart China from encroaching on Taiwan or the Philippines. While Palau has already witnessed a major infrastructure upgrade with the installation of an ‘Over the Horizon’ radar complex, Saipan, and Guam are also undergoing improvements. However, the over-concentration of basing activities on Guam poses a potential risk. As such, dispersing the basing infrastructure will significantly complicate the Chinese missileers’ targeting problem, thereby enhancing deterrence.

Re-opening the Tinian airfield complex represents a significant step toward dispersing the force structure within the Second Island Chain. However, hardening the infrastructure is equally crucial. This entails missile and air defense mechanisms, alongside fortified aircraft and logistics storage facilities. Given the urgency to disperse and harden the basing infrastructure, both the Air Force and Navy must expand their Civil Engineering and Base Defense force structures. An innovative approach could involve the deployment of Army Brigades of Engineers, Military Police, and Air Defenders under the purview of the Air Force and Navy.

The allocation of resources for missile and air defense, reinforced structures, and small transports for the Western Pacific basing infrastructure is among the top priorities laid out by Admiral Aquilino, the Indo-Pacific Commander. An inventive suggestion to bolster missile and air defense in the Second Island Chain involves restoring a Ticonderoga Class, Aegis Missile-capable Cruiser for use as missile launching platforms. Additionally, the re-embrace of the Army’s maritime heritage, aimed at rapidly expanding the fleet of small support vessels, is deemed essential for enhancing rapid movement within the Pacific Island chains.

As the urgency to disperse and harden the basing infrastructure mounts, it is imperative for the Department of Defense to expedite its actions. The Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which allocates $9.1B for Fiscal Year 2024, presents an opportune avenue to propel the readiness of Tinian and the Second Island Chain. Ultimately, the resurgence of Tinian affirms the nation’s commitment to fortify its defenses against potential threats, resonating with a profound historical significance.

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