Updated December 24th, 2023 at 15:30 IST

US Air Force to restore WWII-era airfield to enable Pacific operations to counter Chinese presence

The US Air Force reveals plans to revitalize Tinian North airfield, central to WWII history, aligning with the Agile Combat Employment strategy.

Yuvraj Tyagi
USAF Pilot
USAF Pilot | Image:PACAF

In a strategic move to broaden its basing options in the Pacific, the US Air Force unveils plans to revive the historic Tinian North airfield, known for launching the atomic bombings of Japan. General Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of Pacific Air Forces, discloses the ambitious project, emphasizing significant progress in the coming months. 

"If you pay attention in the next few months, you will see significant progress, especially at Tinian North," he remarks. Tinian, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, holds historical significance as a base for B-29 Superfortress bombers during World War II. The airfield's rejuvenation aligns with the US military's Agile Combat Employment (ACE) strategy, aiming to shift operations from centralized infrastructures to smaller, dispersed locations for enhanced flexibility and strategic advantage. 


Historical Significance 

During World War II, Tinian, Saipan, and Guam played pivotal roles in housing fleets of B-29 Superfortress bombers. The historic North Field on Tinian became the busiest airport globally during the bombing of Japan in 1945. It was from this runway that the Enola Gay, carrying the atomic bomb, took off on August 6, 1945, marking a turning point in history and ushering in the nuclear age.

Credit- X/@PACAF

The reclamation initiative aligns with the broader ACE strategy, emphasizing the importance of dispersed locations to complicate adversary planning and offer more options for joint force commanders. General Wilsbach did not disclose the specific timeline for the airfield's operational readiness, but the US Air Force's Fiscal Year 2024 budget request highlights a substantial allocation of USD 78 million for development projects on Tinian Island. 

This strategic move signifies a significant step in Washington's attempts to broaden its basing options in case of any hostilities with China. The reactivation of Tinian's airfield marks a return to its historic significance in shaping world events.  


Operational flexibility with ACE 

The US Air Force has already begun practicing the ACE concept on Tinian, deploying F-22 stealth fighters during the Agile Reaper exercise in March. The exercise showcased the capability of the airfield to support US fighter jets in a contested environment, underlining their readiness in situations of operational limitations.

Credit- X/@PACA

The strategic location of Tinian provides the US with additional flexibility in the Pacific region, particularly amid growing tensions with China. As the revival project progresses, the reactivated Tinian North airfield is poised to play a crucial role in the evolving geopolitical landscape. 

General Wilsbach, while enthusiastic about the project, did not reveal the timeline for when the airfield would be operational. However, with the substantial budget allocation and the commitment to significant progress in the coming months, Tinian's airfield is on track to become a vital asset in the US military's strategic posture in the Pacific. The reactivation of Tinian's airfield stands as a testament to the military's adaptive strategies and historical awareness, combining the past with future geopolitical considerations. 


Published December 24th, 2023 at 15:30 IST

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