Air-Sea Battle and Our Buildup in the Pacific

It’s begun. A couple of years ago we began hearing quiet discussions on how, as part of the Air-Sea Battle concept, the United States might look to disperse its air forces (lowercase af, not USAF) stationed at its handful of major bases in the western Pacific in the event of a major conflict with China. Doing so would make it more difficult for China to wipe out entire squadrons sitting on the ground with surprise attacks from its long range ballistic missiles (think the DF-21D carrier killers but designed to hit ground targets instead of ships).

A key component of this plan is the refurbishment of long-abandoned World War II airfields scattered across the Pacific. These fields would serve as pretty bare bones facilities that American aircraft could disperse to if a conflict seemed imminent (similar to the way Strategic Air Command’s Cold War dispersal base concept worked).

It looks like the Marine Corps has begun practicing how to put such a plan into action. Last month, Marines refurbished the 8,000-foot “Baker” runway at the abandoned — and historic — North Field air base on the island of Tinian, and installed aircraft carrier-like arresting gear on the runway of the island’s lightly-used West Field. Naturally, this was followed up by Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornets from nearby Guam performing arrested landings on West Field, as shown in the picture above.

The exercise, called Geiger Fury ’12, was designed to put the theory of operating from bare bones Pacific bases into practice.  Or, as one of the official Marine Corps press release on the events says, “the purpose of Exercise Geiger Fury is to execute and assess combined expeditionary operations in the Pacific.” You’re welcome for the translation.

Keep in mind that North Field at Tinian — with its four parallel runways, Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog — was one of the most important U.S. airfields in the Pacific during World War II. It’s the base where the B-29s Enola Gay and Bocks Car took off from to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war.

Click through the jump to watch videos of F/A-18s landing at night on West Field and the Marines rebuilding parts of North Field and setting up a Forward Operating Base.

  • Mastro

    Good idea- will never work- the brass likes mega-bases-resorts with nice golf courses.

    Even if they refurbished some of the old bases- the planes- and all those officers and support staff- would stay at the mega bases.

    The Cactus air force was a long time ago-

    • Guest A

      Hmmm, you must be thinking of a particular branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The ones in the branch conducting this exercise, however, usually don’t have the luxury of being anywhere near “mega bases”, whatever those are…

  • Vaporhead

    I’m sure the Chinese are THRILLED!!!!! I’m sure the Chinese already planned for something like this, and installed hidden viruses in all the knock off military hardware they have sold us. One press of a key will effectively halt our advances.

  • Charles

    It’s a start, but simply dispersing to refurbished runways also makes our logistics problem that much more difficult. Unless the necessary stocks of munitions and fuel are also prepositioned at those austere fields and stored in a survivable mode, we haven’t really made the Chinese task that much more difficult. After all, the GPS position of any and all airfields is precisely known, and the Chinese can retarget their hundreds of long-range missiles in hours. Either we harden airfields as well as disperse, or we keep moving in a shell game to introduce uncertainty into Chinese targeting. Roving carrier battle groups can play this game with considerable success, but land-based air will always be vulnerable to an enemy with long-range weapons unless those weapons are taken out early on……..

    • brad

      excellent review Charles

  • Raraavis

    In what scenario is China firing Ballistic Missiles at US bases that doesn’t go Nuclear.

    We are still going to have the capacity to penetrate and destroy targets inside mainland China even if it is only with sub-launched cruise missiles and our handful of B2’s. We can sink their Navy if the deploy it any distance from the shore. Both sides will be destroying each others Satellites. If they launch a Ballistic missile at Japan, or Hawaii, or Guam, or the mainland of the US how severe will our response be? Are the Chinese going to let the US bomb targets in Beijing with Stealth Bombers without a Nuclear response?

    Let’s borrow another 16 trillion and spend it on defense preparation for a suicidal war that will never happen.

    • ltfunk

      Its the dream where we arent humiliated by Afghan farmers over and over.

      The Pacific pivot is all about getting out of the middle east, nobody in Asia seriously thinks the US can challenge the Chinese economic onslaught.

      • Josh

        Yes because our men and women overseas are just humiliated by the defeated al queda network and the beaten down taliban. I hate People like you who seem to expect some conventional victory out of such a difficult task. We sure as **** are doing a lot better than the soviets did.

        • ltfunk

          We need to get back to having a professional military. This whole make work camp for Americas incompetents and losers is ridiculous and unsustainable.

          Reminds me of the young homeless vetern sign a saw recently – “afghanistan and iraq vet, will capitulate for food”

      • Josh

        Yes because our men and women overseas are just humiliated by the defeated al queda network and the beaten down taliban. People like you who seem to expect some conventional victory out of such a difficult task. We sure as heck are doing a lot better than the soviets did.

  • Nicky

    Why not, it would be a good idea to have these dispersed bases back up and running again. Have those old World War 2 bases that we have brought back up and kept in austere condition with capability to full operation within 24 hours. We can reuse Midway Island, Tinian island and wake island. If the US Navy, or Marines are not using them, then the US Coast Guard can use them as forward operating bases for their cutters and patrol boats.

    • Devil Dog IV

      Might want to take another look at Wake. It’s not that large.

      • Nicky

        Wake island can be used as a staging port for Coast Guard Cutters, Patrol boats or even the so called LCS.

    • blight_

      Generally, we’ll only be reusing bomber bases that were long enough to deploy B-29’s.

      Unless we improvise some sort of ground-mounted catapult; and elect to only deploy catapult ready craft, like the Hornets and JSF-C…which would make some Pacific islands a Navy/Marines gig, not an Air Force one.

    • Guest A

      Dude, this comments section is longer that Wake Island right now…

  • DGR

    Remember that this isnt only about China. Action is heating up all across the Pacific rim. China is just hot on the news so its gets the credit for the policy shift.

  • billw917

    The word is dispersal, not disbursal.

    • Terry

      …a sigh of relief is heard from the bursar’s office….

  • Charles

    Anyone who saw or served at a full-up NATO airbase knows what a huge infrastructure investment is required to sufficiently harden a base so that it can “survive to operate” in the face of a massive missile attack like the Warsaw Pact intended to open hostilities with. It’s not just serviceable runways and taxiways, it’s hardened and dispersed aircraft shelters, hardened command, crew and technician bunkers, buried and dispersed fuel, supplies and comms, robust terminal air defense, air base recovery resources, secure LOCs for resupply, etc, etc, etc. And even if we do all that, the airbase has to be located within range of the enemy to be worth the investment. In the Pacific, land-based fighters would have to be based almost on China’s doorstep if we intended to strike targets inside China instead of merely defending a distant perimeter. It’s a tough problem…..

    • blight_

      You begin to see the appeal of more SSGN’s when you realize the firepower you can drop on an enemy versus the investment in infrastructure and manpower with missiles is better than the one with airpower. Stealth helps, but the range issue is deathly important when we’re talking about long range strategic campaigns in the Pacific Ocean.

  • Black Owl

    The Navy and Marines are smart about this. The historical irony here is rich. US Marines and US Navy pilots operating off of pacific islands facing off against a powerful empire of Asian origin. As a history major I can only ask, “Why is mankind unable to stop history from repeating itself?” I sincerely hope we never go to war with China. The cost on both sides would be extremely high.

    • Andrew

      That is not irony.

      • Black Owl

        You don’t find it ironic that the bases we left for scrap start becoming important again for the same reasons against one of the nations that was an ally to us during WWII?

    • blight_

      War. War never changes.

  • ltfunk

    Our military has become much like hollywood – Epic battles on a grand scale with numerous nostalgic references where our hero fights outnumbered and wins with a riddiculous strategy all lead by massive PR – but when to take a look it’s just a bunch of actors playing to a green screen and looking rather silly.

    • STemplar

      I bet milk curdles when you walk into the room. You’re the troll trolls talk about.

  • Lance

    Good idea I hope we can get back Iwo Jima for a airbase since it doesn’t have a civilian population to anger. Bases in the Philippines and Singapore will be great too.

  • Billy

    How about we just don’t go to war or just nuke the F*** out of each other so we don’t have to deal with each other anymore.

  • Technoweapon

    Not a bad idea. Kind of like stationary carriers. The US is pretty good about operating off of islands, too. Diego Garcia would make a fine example.

    Always good to have multiple back up plans and have the ability to adapt. At least if the impossible happens and we lose a carrier our aircraft will have a secondary location to fall back on.

    • blight_

      Depends. Will they be within range of said aircraft? And if they’re close enough for aircraft presumably without fully topped off tanks, who’s to say that the enemy that destroyed your carrier cannot follow up against your airstrip?

  • ABC123

    Better safe than sorry just hope we never get in a conflict with china

  • Steve B

    Great idea with some serious logistical complications. There are 7 or so airfields and/or potential airfields (including former WWII strips) scattered across the Mariana’s, including 4 on Guam, 1 on Rota, 2 on Tinian and 1 on Saipan. They are all 1800 miles, one-way from the Straits of Taiwan and 3600+ from Hawaii. While all of these fields have potential for operations of fighters, bombers, tankers and intelligence aircaft, they are still pretty far from the most likely combat zones, namely Taiwan and/or any support we decide to offer The Philippines or Vietnam. So tanker support is going to be a huge issue in any operations and with all these facilities vulnerable to missile attack, I’m not seeing the value. 3-4 carriers, with associated anti-sub and anti-ballistic missile defense, stuff we already have an investment in, is a better tactical solution.

    • blight_

      Yup. Those islands were picked for a war against Japan with strategic bombers. Fighters don’t have the legs for offense.

      • Jim37F

        Apples and Oranges. Those islands were on the front lines of WWII and were occupied by the Japanese Empire so when we took them, they were still in range of the enemy.

        On the other hand, if war were to break out with China, well they’re a lot further away than the Japanese were.

    • Mastro

      “I’m not seeing the value. 3-4 carriers, with associated anti-sub and anti-ballistic missile defense, stuff we already have an investment in, is a better tactical solution.”

      Better recheck your math- 4 carriers with support is costing billions and billions of dollars-

      Paving a field in Tinian and building a few hangers- worst case maybe a $ billion-

      Operating costs are a lot lower as well.

      Plus- you can’t sink it.

      • blight_

        Don’t need to sink it: If you can submunition the hell out of a runway, it isn’t usable. Or a cruise missile with Durandal capability if you can’t get aircraft to drop a bomb on the runway?

  • Kooch

    I’m still baffled at how ICBMs can be used as a sucker punch weapon without the nation thats being attacked assuming they are nukes and countering likewise. A quick phone call saying “hey we’re at war but they aren’t nukes so don’t respond with nukes?”

  • Open Mike

    The status quo in the Pacific and Indian Oceans has changed, so must our planning. Dispersed basing options due to increased over-the-horizon threats makes sense for our own force protection or projection capabilities. Depending on the degree nations in the area were to see the PRC as a possible threat they would perceive degrees of need to offset the balance of power. The benefit to US effort, from potential combinations of support with a triangle of larger nations such as India-Australia-Japan, is enormous. Additional strategic development with Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, and nations north of Iran would frame a network that significantly lifts the vulnerability to major US surface assets in the PRC area denial range fan. Japan may have to review its constitution, as did Germany following WWII, to assume more responsibility for defense beyond its islands to double or more the existing range limitation to employ forces. The US should consider its own interests but must do with friends we have long helped but who now are able to contribute much more to their own defense.

  • Jeff Ferguson

    More than one person above has asked the salient question: if China launched a major attack on US Forces…why would we not respond with a nuclear salvo? I am prepared to go one better. Why not establish, as a clear US National Policy, that such an major attack by China (or any other nation) on US military assets would provoke an immediate nuclear response. This IS Strategic Deterrence. Yes, during the Cold War there was a sub collision here, another incident there…. but no primary assault on US assets in Europe or Asia. Why? Nuclear Deterrence. This is distasteful for many, but it worked for four decades. Tense yes, crazy yes… worked for four decades and kept Europe, the US, and Russia out of major war… yes. If a single US aircraft carrier were to be his by a Chinese ICBM… letting them know now, in advance, unequivocally, that the response would be a strategic launch of US Mintueman III’s, would chill that out pretty quickly.

    These dispersal bases must be for brushfire wars in SE Asia… not a major regional attack by China.

  • jamesb

    Flexxing

  • Rob

    I am all for the buildup. Russia and China are preparing for a war scenario with us and have been for years. Both countries persist on being our adversary instead of our allie.

    It’s so complex to really simulate an Asian Pacific battle because so much depends on who helps who. If Russia and Japan stay out. If India is drawn to take sides. Will Taiwan defend knowing Chinese nukes can wipe out the island. So many variables… Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia.. Iran…. Isreal.

    Then NATO, which is based on an attack on one is an attack on all… so pretty much any scenario I figure would just bring on a WWIII and mutually assured destruction & severe environmental impacts…With only poor isolated countries left to deal with the mess of it.

  • We need bases in Africa to help some countries like other countries we had our share of mineralsgold,daimonds,all sorts of “ore” everything now its most gone we just leave them in oil wasted blubber to clean up them selfs.

  • orly?

    Gee, this sounds oddly familiar.

    Mass CRUISE missile attacks stockpiled from their giant bunkers targetting STATIONARY, VULNERABLE TARGETS. All LAND bases, potentially making ALL US forces in the region (and potentially Taiwan) impotent after the initial attack unless we have extensive AA and CAP.

    Would a mobile NAVAL presence be a wonderful idea?

    Where’s majr0d? I think I’ve mentioned this before, I want to check with him.

    • Big-Rick

      your right orly, we’d have to put several Aegis ships around each base for protection

      there’s no land AA system in the inventory that would work

      • majr0d

        Big-Rick, You might want to google the 49th Missile Defense Battalion (Ground-Based Missile Defense) at Fort Greely, Alaska. They’ve got 30 interceptors as of last year. BTW have you heard of Patriot or THAAD?

        • orly?

          Everytime I hear about ships vs. ASM’s, I keep hearing the word “saturation.”

          Requesting:

          1. PAC-3 success rate against cruise missiles

          2. PAC-3 deployment time from last NK missile launch

          3. The amount of launchers needed to properly defend against thousands of cruise missiles

          The advantage goes to the attacker, right?

          • majr0d

            Doubt you are going to get classified performance data anywhere unless you’re in Chinese intel. Do you have the success rate of Aegis against cruise missiles?

            PAC-3s are in Korea and deploying more would take less time than steaming there.

            Who has thousands of cruise missiles?

            No force by itself is the solution which is the fallacy of ASB.

          • orly?

            1. Meant PAC-3 in Japan for the majority of US forces, SK can easily be sieged if Japan gets neutralized.

            2. “Who has thousands of cruise missiles?” Google: chinese missile tunnel Georgetown.

            Ancient or not, a siege works pretty well.

          • majr0d

            Japan has PAC 3 also.

            Chinese missile tunnel? Yeah, so what? The story has nothing to do with the number of cruise missiles the Chinese have. (It’s about the ability to hidie their nuke missiles)

            What’s your point or do you just pull random non-related buzz words together to try and sound intelligent?

          • orly?

            1. Last I heard, it takes time to deploy properly, a reason why they seem to put it on the news when Japan plans to deploy them.
            2. You really think its all nukes or cruise missiles?
            3. Which would you rather have the tunnels full of?

    • majr0d

      Sounds like you are talking about the Marines. Cool. When do they land and sieze Hong Kong?

      Oh and Happy D-Day anniversary :)

  • duuude

    If USA fights China, the only winners will be India, Russia and Japan.

    They will laugh long, and they will laugh hard if Chimerica is stupid enough to commit suicide.

  • blight_

    We would also need seabasing in quiet lagoons, just as the navy did in Uluthi and other atolls in WW2. Nobody talks about them, but they were pivotal for warfighting for other reasons. That said, we’re still stymied by the need for standoff range with fighter aircraft unable to meet it.

  • WarPony

    Problem is, China already has the US surrounded: port in Long Beach (thanks Klinkton), dock in NY, deep water port in Bahamas, Panama Canal and bases at either end & widening project underway, airfields in S .America, ports in Mexico. ( I kow – allegedly “private shipping co.s” – HA).
    Klinkton’s watch and high-tech missile lathes get shipped, fake fire and two hard drives disappear from Los Alamos. Outsourced our chips and strategic minerals requirements to the commies. Enemy within, enemy out.
    That’s what happens when the political process is broken and foreign countries can buy our commander in chef.

    • WarPony

      Forgot to mention those mysterious missile launches within US waters (Cali and Gulf of Mexico) about the time we started pressuring them into currency “fair-trade.”

  • ltfunk

    Since we are Americans when we have lemons we kid ourselves that the future is in lemonade franchises.

    If we were really back in the pacific we would be building up major bases across the region. But the reality is that the pacific isnt that keen to see us back. We cant get bases anywhere strategic, and we havent got the cash for a build up. While our “allies” talk openly about containing the American threat to thier economic expansion.

    So we pretend we will “dominate” from far flung bases that we cant afford to properly equip with teh short range junk we buy for Lockmart.

    The reality is that we could just move everybody back to the CONUS and pretend we had a “pacific strategy”. It would be about as effective and cost alot less.

  • WarPony

    DeanMJackson wrote: (on Reuters – us-russia-china-east, etc.)
    In fact, the Sino/Soviet split was a strategic ruse as revealed by KGB defector Major Anatoliy Golitsyn, and the ’69 border skirmishes manufactured to encourage the blief that World Communism was fractured.
    Golitsyn’s incredible predictive capability also saw a reunited Russia and China forming a single clenched fist against America. In fact, between 1965-1973, China assisted Vietnam with at least 500,000 PLA troops during the Vietnam War, which the media kept quite, proving that the Sino/Soviet split was a ruse.
    Now you know why Russia’s foreign policy mirrors China’s and why, inexplicably, Russia would be worried about NATO’s missile shield.
    With the Communist Red Star still being placed on new Russian Naval vessels and military aircraft, and USSR electorates of the 15 republics that made up the USSR inexplicably electing Soviet era Communist Party members for national leaders (including every President of Russia since the fake collapse of the USSR in 1991), the Communists are still in power in the not-so-former USSR.

    • WarPony

      So, you see, as they practice war games together, the “news” put of the “City of London” . . .(AP/Reuters) is hogwash.

    • Dean M. Jackson

      WarPony, I was running a Google search for Russian naval ships (I wanted a picture of the Communist Red Star on the bow of a Russian naval vessel) and I found your quote of me from 10 weeks ago! It’s nice to be quoted, especially on such an important subject.

      As for Golitsyn, KGB defector Major Anatoliy Golitsyn is still under Federal protective custody, proving (1) that the collapse of the USSR was a strategic ruse; and (2) that all Soviet-era defectors that followed Golitsyn were double agents.

      One can read Golitsyn’s first book, “New Lies for Old”, at Internet Archive.

  • could we just lunch tomohwaks from our subs and destroy there missil bases

  • Tribulationtime

    Many Many Many years ago, One man crowded of weird ideas, post something to “shortened” runaways instead to stay fighting to build VSTOL planes (as F35B). How wise man, How forerunner. How usual banned.

  • tiger

    Overall I think Cyber war is more of a threat than missile & bullets. A jet or CVN can not stop a Cyber attack/

  • Johnny Ranger

    You people have AWFUL spelling and grammar skills ;-)

  • I work with the Chinese on a daily basis at work. They may be large, but that are terribly uncoordinated. They may have the hardware, but never the coordniation to have coordinated military strikes. One of my friends in China told me they didnt even have enough bullets for everybody to train with in basic training live fire, so some of them just faked it and simulated firing rounds. Lol. Now, that being said, I think the Chinese are gullable enough to think they could win and could start something, however the threat to US (USA) from China is not their military, but when they call in their loans and we can’t pay. That sceniao is much more likely. If that happened, our economy would collapse, we would need to call back the military, leaving all of SE Asia unprotected for China to move in. At that time, our issues would not be with fighting China, but rather fighting each other for food and fuel in our bankrupt homeland.

  • ed alfonso

    We are doing the right move by preparing the airfileds in Tinian…. its a US territory so no need to worry about sovereignty… I’ve landed in Wake Island on the way to former Clark AB several times in early ’70’s and its also a great place strategically. It may cost big bucks to upgrade these places to accommodate todays military, but so is paying huge rental fees to another country.