US military plans $400 million upgrade to Yap’s airport in western Pacific

The proposal adds to other significant expansion of U.S. military infrastructure in the Pacific.
By Stephen Wright for BenarNews
2024.03.17
Brisbane, Australia
US military plans $400 million upgrade to Yap’s airport in western Pacific Islands in Federated States of Micronesia’s Yap state are seen from a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules on Dec. 14, 2010 during Operation Christmas Drop.
Nichell Griffiths/U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force has outlined plans to spend US$400 million on upgrading the international airport on the Micronesian island of Yap to overcome what it says is a lack of military-capable airports in the strategically important Pacific region.

The plan is detailed in budget documents for the 2025 fiscal year and is one of the air force’s largest outside-of-America appropriation requests for that year. It adds to other significant expansion of U.S. military infrastructure in the Pacific in response to China’s increased defense spending. 

“Development of Yap Airport is essential because there are very few divert or contingency airfields available as potential United States defense sites in the region,” according to the budget request submitted to Congress last month.

“The strategic intent is to support and conduct current, emerging, and future United States Air Force training activities, and to ensure the capability to meet mission requirements in the event that access to other western Pacific locations is limited or denied,” it said.

U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month signed a budget bill that included funding for the renewal of close ties with Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. The three countries give the United States military access to their vast ocean territories between the Philippines and Hawaii in exchange for economic assistance and the right to live and work in the U.S. 

The U.S. is building an over-the-horizon radar facility in Palau that will add to its early-warning capabilities for the western Pacific and also has expanded military bases in the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam over several years.

In the South Pacific, the U.S. envisages upgrades over several years to sea and air ports in Papua New Guinea under a defense cooperation agreement signed last year. It also plans to base nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in the far north of Australia after upgrading airport infrastructure.

China’s annual military budget has about doubled over the past decade to $298 billion in 2022, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s military spending database. U.S. military spending fell over that period but remains nearly three times greater than China’s. 

Competition between China and the U.S. has been sharpest in East Asia due to possible flashpoints such as Taiwan – which China regards as a rebel province – and Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea that overlap with the claims of Southeast Asian nations.                            

The Pacific has also become a focus for the rivalry as the U.S. responds to China’s inroads with island states over several decades. U.S. interest in the Pacific was particularly galvanized after the Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with China in 2022.

Yap, one of the four states that make up Federated States of Micronesia, comprises islands with a total area of about 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) and is known for maintaining a strong traditional culture and its giant stone money.

The airport project on Yap island, which is the largest island in the remote group, would lengthen the runway so more U.S. military aircraft can safely use it, according to the budget document. The construction work could begin in the second half of next year.

Yap’s strategic location is vital to the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command and the U.S. Pacific Air Force for future missions and for aircraft involved in humanitarian and disaster relief efforts in the area, it says. 

An additional project planned for Yap would expand the area for aircraft parking and improve access to the runway, according to the document.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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