The U.S. military is expanding a facility in the Pacific island territory, Northern Mariana Islands, preparing it as an alternative location for military aircraft to land if the U.S. territory of Guam is targeted in a future conflict with China.
Satellite images taken earlier this month and revealed last week show work is proceeding to expand the Tinian airport. The open-source intelligence-themed Twitter account OsintTV tweeted photos of the progress, with the caption “US has begun expansion work at Tinian International Airport (Mariana Islands). Satellite imagery from June 6 shows activity to clear the airfield, which will house the new aircraft parking apron, taxiways. Completion date October 2025. Estimate US$161.8 million.”
According to The Drive, the latest images demonstrate progress in adding a new aircraft taxiway and an expanded parking apron for aircraft on the northwest end of the airport.
In May 2019, the Commonwealth Ports Authority of the Northern Mariana Islands signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense, authorizing the U.S. military to lease the Tinian International Airport on the island of Tinian to act as a divert airfield for Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. Having the divert airfield in place would provide U.S. forces a base to launch and land military aircraft in the event that the runways on Andersen Air Force Base are knocked out, such as in a conflict with China.
Tinian is about 1,800 miles from the Chinese mainland and about 120 miles north of Guam.
The military development on Tinian comes as the U.S. is increasing its presence in the Indo-Pacific region. The area surrounding China consists of a series of island chains. According to a 2020 analysis by the U.S. military research think tank RAND, China is increasingly building weapons that can saturate the so-called First Island Chain, which generally consists of Taiwan, Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands and the northern islands of the Philippines. China is also beginning to obtain more weapons that can reach parts of the so-called Second Island Chain, which includes Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
According to the 2020 RAND analysis, the U.S. military has been increasingly betting on bolstering its presence on the Second Island Chain, as a way to back up U.S. and allied forces in the First Island Chain. The U.S. and its allies will likely try to keep the Second Island Chain in the event that Chinese forces seize control of the First and their anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) strategy blocks the U.S. from returning to the First chain.
The recent progress in Tinian is indicative of the broader U.S. strategy to build up its presence in the Second Island Chain.