Skip to Content

US Air Force to reclaim Pacific airfield that launched atomic bombings as it looks to counter China

By Brad Lendon, CNN

(CNN) — The US Air Force plans to bring the Pacific island airfield that launched the atomic bombings of Japan back into commission as it tries to broaden its basing options in the event of any hostilities with China, the service’s top officer in the Pacific says.

Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of Pacific Air Forces, told Nikkei Asia in an interview published this week that North Airfield on the island of Tinian will become an “extensive” facility once work has been completed to reclaim it from the jungle that has grown over the base since the last US Army Air Force units abandoned it in 1946.

“If you pay attention in the next few months, you will see significant progress, especially at Tinian North,” Wilsbach said. The Air Force is also adding facilities at Tinian International Airport in the center of the island.

Pacific Air Forces confirmed Wilsbach’s comments to CNN but said there was no official release on the subject.

Tinian is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific, some 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) west of Hawaii in the Pacific. Only about 3,000 people live on the 39-square-mile island.

Wilsbach did not give a timeline on when the airfield will be operational, according to the Nikkei report.

Pivotal in World War II

Tinian, along with the nearby islands of Saipan and Guam, has a rich history of US air operations.

During World War II, all three islands, after they were captured from Japanese occupiers, were home to fleets of B-29 Superfortress bombers which rained destruction on the Japanese homeland.

History’s deadliest bombing raid, the March 10, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo that killed as many as 100,000 people and injured a million, was carried out by B-29s launched from the three islands.

During the relentless bombing of Japan in 1945, North Field on Tinian, with its four 8,000-foot runways and 40,000 personnel, became the largest and busiest airport in the world.

North Field sealed its spot in history on August 6, 1945, when in the early morning darkness, the B-29 bomber named Enola Gay rolled down its Runway Able carrying the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima later that morning, killing 70,000 people with its initial blast and bringing the world into the nuclear age.

Three days later, another B-29, named Bockscar, would take off from Tinian to drop an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing 46,000 people with its initial blast.

A storied past, contemporary uses

The Air Force’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget request shows $78 million has been sought for construction projects on Tinian island.

The reclamation project is part of the US military’s Agile Combat Employment (ACE) strategy, which an Air Force doctrine document says “shifts operations from centralized physical infrastructures to a network of smaller, dispersed locations that can complicate adversary planning and provide more options for joint force commanders.”

Much of the US air power in the Pacific is concentrated on a few large air bases, like Andersen Air Force Base on Guam or Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

A strike on those bases could cripple the US military’s ability to hit back at an adversary if too much US air power were concentrated there.

And as China, the country the Pentagon identifies as its “pacing threat,” grows its missile forces, the Air Force is looking for places to disperse its fleet to make targeting it more difficult.

According to a 2022 paper from the Air Force’s Air University, “ACE helps mitigate (Chinese) threats by dispersing forces throughout the theater using hub-and-spoke basing configurations, offering the service unpredictability and requiring the People’s Liberation Army to expend more missiles to reduce US Air Force airpower effects.”

“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.

The Air Force has already been practicing the ACE concept on Tinian, including operating F-22 stealth fighters out of its international airport during exercise Agile Reaper in March.

The airport provided an environment where the US fighter jets could depend only on supplies they carried themselves or that could be flown in C-17 transports while showing they were “ready and capable of operating in a contested, degraded, and operationally limited environment,” an Air Force statement said.

The F-22s also operated from Guam, 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the south of Tinian, during Agile Reaper.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - World

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content