Flightline Friday: Just like old times April 29, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Flightline Friday, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
This hasn’t happened much in the past 25 years – USAF operating out of Clark Air Base, Philippines, again:
Back in the “bad old days” of the Cold War, the Philippines were the United States bastion in Southeast Asia, especially after the fall of South Vietnam. Having been used by US forces for nearly a century, an immense and capable infrastructure had been built up. The two primary bases were the Air Force’s sprawling Clark Air Base, and the Navy’s equally huge Subic Bay Naval Base and co-located Cubi Point Naval Air Station. In addition, there were numerous minor fields, and, perhaps more importantly, vast instrument ranges for conducting Red Flag-like exercises called Cope Thunder.
After the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, the end of the Cold War, the development of a strong anti-US sentiment, and, with perfect timing, the explosion of Mount Pinatumbo (which rendered Clark useless for years and badly impacted Subic Bay), the Philippine government decided – with very little US opposition – to terminate the nearly 100 year US presence.
However, China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea have caused both the Philippines and the US to re-evaluate the need for defense cooperation. Now that China is building a large military base in the Spratly Islands – which they have no legal justification in occupying, let alone militarizing – and have been invading Philippine territorial waters with increasing frequency, the Filipinos have had a bit of a change of heart and have decided it might not be so bad to have something of a US presence in their country again. Of course, it has to be different this time, they say, the bases will continue to be “owned” by the Filipino government with the US simply getting certain use and visitation privileges, but we’ll see how long that lasts. The Filipinos have been very hard pressed to keep the US-legacy infrastructure they inherited from completely falling apart, and there will need to be substantial investments soon to keep Subic and other places viable locales for military operations. We’ll see what happens in that regard.
To my mind, however, if the desire is to contain China, the Philippines are not enough. Other current operating locations – the Aussies are very accommodating, there’s Singapore, and of course the
island of Guam is almost one giant base – are both too far away, and too few in number, to permit a close-in containment of China. The other factor is this: China’s strategy viz a viz the US is obvious. It consists of what is called anti-acceess/area denial, meaning, they will use a variety of means to keep the US at arms length in any conflict. The primary means are very accurate ballistic missiles and cruise missiles to attack approaching naval forces and threaten all bases in the region. The best way to counter this kind of threat is dispersion – having a large number of bases from which the US can operate from at various times, without necessarily having forces present there at any given moment. Right now, even with access to a few bases in the Philippines, there simply aren’t enough realistic operating bases from which to both threaten China and also provide sufficient dispersal (I did not mention a few above – there are bases in Korea, but they are not good for this purpose as they are too close to China, meaning missile flight times are so short they would be extremely difficult to defend. There are also some bases in Japan/Okinawa, and those are good, but again, not enough of them. There’s three air bases and one principle naval base in those locales. They’re also not in the right place).
Negotiations have been ongoing with Vietnam about getting access rights to some installations the US built, at great expense, back in the 60s (Cam Ranh Bay, principally, but also Da Nang), but I am skeptical that will happen. There is another country that would probably be quite happy to have a US presence, even if only periodic, and which is perfectly located to threaten much of China’s burgeoning high-tech industries. That country is Thailand. The US operated many bases there from ~1960 – 1975 and beyond. While the locals gutted everything they could after we left, the runways are still there and the Thai’s have repaired a bit of infrastructure. Ubon or Takhli would be interesting options. If you draw a roughly 800 nautical mile ring around both Ubon and Clark, you can see that the arcs overlap nicely in the South China Sea. 800 nm happens to be the unrefuelled radius of a moderately loaded F-15E, and the subsonic cruise radius of an F-22.
Beyond that, reconstituting many of the installations across the Pacific that have fallen into disuse and disrepair would also provide means of quick dispersal and defense in depth. I’m speaking of Wake Island, Shemya in Alaska, Johnston Island, and especially Midway. While some of these have fallen into rather severe disrepair – especially the latter two – and would require quite a bit of investment to return to operational status, the first two have been kept in “warm storage” and are still in use today, albeit at a low level. I’m not saying that these locations make sense as offensive operational locations against China, but they do make eminent sense as both staging areas for any necessary offensive build up, but, even more importantly, dispersal areas in times of crisis, to weather the initial Chinese barrage of ballistic/cruise missiles. China still does not possess terribly capable means of reconnaissance, so they would have a hard time knowing which hardened aircraft shelters are occupied at which time at which base – especially if the number of frequently used bases were to rise from the current ~10 (almost all in Japan/Okinawa) to say, 30. Plus, some of those dispersal sites are out of range of the Chinese missile threat.
Interesting to note, late last month, the bases the US would use in the Philippines were made public, and neither Clark nor Subic were on the list. And yet, see the video above, A-10s at least visiting, if not operating from, Clark. I have a feeling the list of bases was a bit of subterfuge to complicate Chinese planning, forces will probably rotate among a whole host of bases, in order to lessen their vulnerability to being targeted. At least for a while. History shows, however, that wherever the US goes, we like to take home with us, and build up a nice fat infrastructure. So……..we’ll see.