The head of US Pacific Air Forces said Monday that the Air Force was clearing out jungles in the Pacific to build new airfields and restore old ones as part of the branch’s preparation for war with China in the region.
The Air Force is working to expand its bases as part of a plan to become more mobile in the Pacific, a concept known as Agile Combat Employment (ACE). Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach said the Air Force is looking for more money to facilitate the military buildup.
“We’re going to be clearing out the jungle [and] we’re going to be resurfacing some of the surfaces there so that we will have a fairly large and very functional Agile Combat Employment base, an additional base to be able to operate from and we have several other projects like that around the region that we’ll be getting after,” he said at the Air & Space Forces Association’s Air, Space & Cyber conference, according to Defense One.
“That takes resources to be able to accomplish and so those are some of the resources that I argue for when I go back to the headquarters,” Wilsbach added. He said the Air Force requested funds for additional construction in the Pacific for its 2024 military budget.
Wilsbach said that every new base in the region is a new area China would have to target. “Every single additional airfield that I can operate from is another in a contingency or crisis, or a conflict is another airfield that China has to put into their targeting folders and, and then allocate resources toward them, which dilutes their ability to shut us completely down,” he said.
The Biden administration has been working to expand the US military footprint in the Asia Pacific. This year, the US signed a deal with the Philippines to gain access to four new bases in the country and inked an agreement with Papua New Guinea to gain access to airports and sea ports in the Pacific island nation. The US is also expanding its presence in Australia under the AUKUS pact.
Wilsbach also has his eye on newer weapons and said the Air Force needs to modernize to face China. “There’s some modernization for some of our current platforms that are very critical for maintaining dominance in some of our mission areas because while we have been doing a lot of things in the Middle East in the last 20 years, China’s been resourcing for near-peer competition,” he said.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall made similar comments at the conference. “The threat of attack from violent extremist organizations still exists, and we will address those threats as they occur. But China is by far our pacing challenge,” he said.