Tuesday, January 25, 2022

US’ ‘Most Critical’ Military Base To Counter China Hosts Mega War Drills As QUAD+ Nations Look To Contain Beijing

The US’ strategic military base at Guam has of late witnessed hectic activity in view of rising tensions with China. The ongoing multinational war game, ‘Sea Dragon’, is an indication of the strategic importance of the Western Pacific island. 

The military drills involving QUAD member-nations besides South Korea and Canada kicked off at Guam on January 5. India, the US, Japan, and South Korea have deployed their naval forces while Australia and Canada sent their air forces to the 270-hour exercise.

US Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in a statement on January 6 that two P-8A Poseidon aircraft from the Golden Swordsmen and The Tridents will join the war games. This is besides the P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft from Patrol Squadrons (VP) 47 and 26.

The Western Pacific island serves as a watch post and may even become a launchpad for the Americans to thwart potential threats from China.

The exercise will see operations ranging from monitoring simulated targets to tracking a US Navy submarine. It will be centered on anti-submarine warfare (ASW) training.

Each event will be evaluated, and the country with the greatest overall score will be awarded the ‘Dragon Belt’, which the Royal Canadian Air Force won last year.

US and partner nations conclude exercise Sea Dragon 2021
Sea Dragon 2021 – Via Twitter

The exercise comes at a time when tensions between Taiwan and China are at an all-time high. Conducting the exercise at a key American military base hints at Washington’s commitment to safeguarding its own interest along with those of its allies. 

Quad members Japan and Australia recently signed a defense treaty to enhance their military cooperation. The latest exercise is likely to cement the growing collaboration among US regional allies, helping them to enhance interoperability. 

“This exercise is an annual, multi-national high-end ASW training exercise,” said Cmdr Tomoyuki Michiyama, commanding officer of Flight Division 31 of Air Patrol Squadron 3 of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.  

“I believe that by conducting a wide range of training, from classroom training on the ground to actual training targeting a submarine, we will be able to improve our tactical skills. In addition, through training, exchange of opinions, and various types of exchanges, we expect to strengthen cooperation and deepen mutual understanding among the participating navies and air forces,” he added.

india-USA
File Image: India, US drills in Alaska

Importance Of Guam In The Pacific 

Guam, a small island in the Western Pacific, has contributed significantly to US military policy for decades. Guam is attracting greater attention as a result of China’s growing military capabilities. 

The island’s strategic location makes it an ideal military base for the US to observe China’s activities in the South China Sea. Furthermore, the Chinese military is railroaded by the “First Island Chain,” a series of US-friendly islands running from Japan to Indonesia. 

Additionally, the island is home to two large bases: Andersen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south, which were merged in 2009 to become Joint Base Marianas. Four nuclear-powered fast attack submarines are stationed at the naval facility.

More projects are in the pipeline to augment the present 7,000-strong force to 12,000 by relocating 5,000 US Marines from Okinawa to Guam. 

The Case For Stripping The P-8 Poseidon Down Into An RB-8 Multi-Role Arsenal Ship
File Image: P-8 Poseidon

The Andersen Air Force Facility, which occupies much of the northern portion of the island, is the only US base in the western Pacific fit to house heavy bombers for an extended duration.

This is why Guam could prove a crucial role in any future confrontation. Moreover, the geographical location of the island provides a natural nest for the submarine to dive fast into the deep waters.

China hasn’t been able to conceal its concern over Guam. In 2020, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aired a sloppy propaganda video showing simulated strikes carried out by H-6 bombers on what seemed to be the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam Island. 

It was also previously reported that a Chinese company was considering investing in a regional undersea internet cable project, with a planned connection to the US government’s HANTRU-1 cable, which falls at Guam. This was thought to be an attempt by the Chinese government to spy over US troops based on the island and was not allowed. 

Guam Central To US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy

As the Indo-Pacific becomes a priority region for the US military, the objective is to develop relationships and foster a networked area capable of uniting allies in defense against Chinese, Russian and North Korean aggression.

In this context, the latest military exercise will increase the understanding of the combined strength of the allied nations. Moreover, Guam will certainly play a crucial role in this mission. 

The US military has maintained its presence in Asia for nearly eight decades. It has been in Japan since the end of World War II (1939-1945); in South Korea since the Korean War (1950-1953). According to Al Jazeera, Japan and South Korea together house nearly half of all US military deployed abroad (80,100).

Camp Humphreys is the biggest US military installation outside of the United States and is located 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Seoul. Australia, a Quad member, also hosts the American military on its soil. 

CTF-72 Participates in Sea Dragon Exercise > Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet > Display
CTF-72 Participates in Sea Dragon Exercise – US Navy

Russia has also accused the US of seeking to establish a base in India. However, experts believe that India’s policy will never allow the US to use its soil.  

Despite the fact that the United States maintains several military bases in the region, Guam offers a number of advantages. Guam has often been dubbed a “permanent aircraft carrier” in the region as the island is American territory sovereignty, and the US military can launch strikes from Guam at any time without seeking permission from any host country.  

The US military has deployed some of its best defense systems on the island. It was previously reported that the US has tested the Israeli Iron Dome air defense system at Guam in an effort to create a layered defense system for this crucial military base. 

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