Begert: In DOD's base restructuring, 'Guam's got a lot going for it'
ARLINGTON, Va. — When Defense Department officials announce their long-awaited overseas base-restructuring plans, Guam is likely the one place in the Pacific receiving new fighters and bombers, a senior Air Force official said Tuesday.
Asked whether the Air Force has plans to establish any “additional” bases, Gen. William Begert, commander of Pacific Air Forces, said Guam was it.
“In terms of bases where we could put additional force structure, it’s really Guam that I’m talking about,” Begert told reporters in Washington. “And then trying to modernize and enhance the force structure that we have and right-size it on existing bases.”
Begert said that a “lily-pad approach,” which involves striking accords with other nations to use their facilities for contingencies, is another option, and “is something that can be pretty cost-efficient.”
“We have had very good success in Asia on getting access to the bases we need in the past couple of years,” he said.
However, “no final decisions have been made yet,” Begert cautioned. “We want a chance to brief allies and friends before we roll out major changes” to U.S. basing in the Pacific.
The U.S. military had a major presence on Guam from World War II until the early 1990s, when the end of the Cold War prompted a major drawdown worldwide.
But Guam never really lost its appeal to U.S. defense strategists.
“Guam’s got a lot going for it,” Begert said.
One advantage is Guam’s distance from North Korea. At about 2,000 miles away, Guam is an easy hop for fighters and bombers, but well out of the reach of Pyongyang’s missiles, which threaten U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan, Begert said.
“There’s no place in the world that is completely invulnerable from attack,” Begert said, but “Guam is far enough back” to eliminate many concerns about many attacks, such as surface-to-surface missile attacks.
Pentagon budgets have continued to include significant funds for improvements to military facilities on the island, including Andersen Air Force Base.
“We’ve been investing heavily in Guam over the past 10 years,” Begert said, stockpiling munitions, modernizing the airfield, equipping a training range and otherwise preparing the base for operations.
Andersen is so capable, in fact, that when the Air Force decided to use it as a staging ground for bombers during the Afghanistan campaign, “we went from zero to 75 planes on the ground in 48 hours, and never missed a beat,” Begert said. Guam staged bombers during the Iraq air war, as well.
The Navy also has shown an interest in Guam, basing two nuclear attack submarines at the port in 2002, with plans to add another this year. Navy officials also have talked about the possibility of basing an aircraft carrier there.
If the U.S. opens a permanent base in Guam, in addition to “the importance of rotational bombers going in there,” Guam also could be home to “a fighter wing, tankers and Global Hawk” unmanned aerial vehicles, Begert said. “All of them make good sense.”