Airfield That Launched First A-Bombs Called Back to Service

Amid China threat, US is reviving airfield on Tinian Island for first time since World War II
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2023 11:52 AM CST
Updated Dec 24, 2023 3:25 PM CST
US Reviving Airfield That Launched Atom Bombs
In this Aug. 6, 1945, file photo, the "Enola Gay" Boeing B-29 Superfortress lands at Tinian, Northern Mariana Islands, after the US atomic bombing mission against the Japanese city of Hiroshima.   (AP Photo/Max Desfor, File)

The US Air Force is reviving the island airfield that launched the atomic bombs on Japan in World War II as it looks to disperse its power in the Pacific and avoid becoming an easy target for China. North Field on the 39-square-mile Tinian Island—part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory north of Guam—was the biggest and busiest airport in the world in 1945 with four 8,000-foot runways and 40,000 personnel, per CNN. Abandoned in 1946, it's much overgrown all these decades later. But the commander of Pacific Air Forces, Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, says work is underway to reclaim it from the island's jungle by next summer and transform it into an "extensive" facility.

"If you pay attention in the next few months, you will see significant progress, especially at Tinian North," Wilsbach tells Nikkei Asia in an interview. He says the Air Force is also adding facilities at Tinian International Airport, formerly known as West Field, which serves the island of 3,000 with just one operating runway. The site was previously chosen to host a "divert airfield" north of the airport's main runway, with work beginning at the site last February, per Business Insider. Satellite images show a decent clearing of trees there, per the outlet. The Armed Forces branch has requested $78 million for projects on Tinian in its Fiscal Year 2024 budget, CNN reports.

The projects are part of the "Agile Combat Employment" strategy to spread US air power beyond Guam's Andersen Air Force Base and Kadena Air Base on Japan's Okinawa island as "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," per CNN. As Business Insider puts it, the Air Force aims to "counter the threat posed by China's [long-range] missiles," which "could strike the US' main operating bases hard at the beginning of a war." As part of the strategy, the US military also "secured access this year to locations in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea while Washington and Canberra agreed to upgrade infrastructure at two air bases in northern Australia," per Nikkei Asia. (More Tinian Island stories.)

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