Expanding the U.S. presence in the region tells potential adversaries that "we mean to stay"
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 10, 2010
Andersen Air Force Base, Guam » Just as it did 38 years ago for a bombing run over North Vietnam, the B-52 bomber thundered down the runway and almost disappeared from sight in the dip for which this airfield is famous, then lifted off and turned west to do its part in an exercise called Valiant Shield.
Minutes later, two F-15 fighters did the same. After that three Navy P-3C maritime patrol planes landed, one after another. Along the ramps under a blazing sun, mechanics tended to F-22 fighters, KC-135 aerial tankers, and Marine F-18s. Altogether, the Air Force, Navy, and Marines had 106 aircraft here for the integrated training.
At sea somewhere between Guam and Palau to the southwest, the aircraft carrier George Washington launched and recovered its 85 fighters, attack bombers, and electronic warfare planes as the entire force trained to defend islands belonging to allies and friends in the Western Pacific. It was the largest joint exercise ever mounted from Guam.
Back at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, the air war out here was controlled by the 613th Air Operations Center in a dark cavern filled with several hundred computer monitors flashing a torrent of battle reports and sending out a stream of intelligence and orders.
After the weeklong exercise, the lessons learned were thrashed out, then written up in reports to the Pacific Air Forces and Pacific Fleet. Those assessments were to be sent to Washington where Air Force and Navy staffs are devising a joint operational plan called AirSeaBattle to guide combat operations in the event of hostilities in this region.
Andersen and the other U.S. bases on Guam will be keys to that effort, officers here said, and plans are moving ahead to "harden" hangars, communications centers, fuel storage, and ammunition bunkers to withstand blasts from Chinese missiles. Guam lies 1,800 miles from the coast of China, within easy range of those missiles.
The officers declined to identify the sites being reinforced but did say they would be strong enough to survive the worst typhoon Guam had experienced and to ride out an earthquake that registered 7 on a Richter scale of 9, the most violent earthquake recorded.
Asked why the U.S. was enlarging a base relatively close to the missile launchers of a potential adversary, an officer said: "The message to China is that we are here and we mean to stay."
Richard Halloran, formerly with The New York Times as a foreign correspondent in Asia and military correspondent in Washington, was editorial page editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. He is now a freelance writer in Honolulu.