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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The U.S. Air Force said Tuesday it is looking into the possibility of constructing an airfield on one of the islands near Guam to support disaster relief efforts and training in the Asia-Pacific region.

If built, the facility could provide extra runway space in the event of a major disaster in Indonesia, South Korea, Philippines, or other countries in the region and could allow U.S. military aircraft on Guam to continue flying if military airfields on the U.S. territory are knocked out, said Capt. Timothy Lundberg, a spokesman for Andersen Air Force Base.

Officials said the proposal is unrelated to U.S. plans for a historic military buildup on Guam that could cost about $24 billion over the next decade and include turning the territory into an Air Force reconnaissance hub. Those buildup plans have raised sharp concerns in Congress in recent months over Department of Defense spending and planning. The U.S. Senate has said funding should be axed in the coming year.

For now, the airfield proposal remains in the early planning stages and price estimates were not immediately available from the Air Force on Guam.

“Primarily, [the runway] is to ensure that there is enough capacity if there is a humanitarian incident in this region and especially if there is one on Guam that would render this (Andersen) runway incapacitated,” Lundberg said.

The Air Force is considering the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota as possible locations for the facility, which would ideally have a 10,000-foot runway and be big enough to accommodate a squadron of KC-130 aircraft and about 500 personnel, according to an Air Force notice in the Federal Register.

The federal notice said the Air Force could choose to use the existing international airport on Guam as a place to divert disaster or training aircraft, which would mean no additional construction.

The service will meet with local government officials and hold a series of public meetings beginning this week on Guam to gauge public opinion and discuss any environmental issues, Lundberg said.

It is the first step, called an environmental impact statement, required under federal law for any large-scale military construction projects.

“This is not just a check in the box,” Lundberg said. “How people react is going to be an important aspect of the decision.”

Once the Air Force finishes its environmental assessment, it will release a final decision on the project that could include a site selection or a call for no action. That process can take months, or years.

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