Following last week’s Air Force “combat-turn” exercises at Palau International Airport, this week has seen a continuation of US Air Force exercises on the Angaur Airstrip, from fighter-jet maneuvers to airfield damage repair.
On February 5, US Air Force Airmen assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, transported heavy equipment via a C-130J Super Hercules to Angaur, including a transport vehicle and building materials. Among other tasks assigned to the Air Force for Cope North 2021, an annual multilateral exercise, a team of RED HORSE civil engineers are repairing craters on Angaur’s Airstrip, and Air Force operators have helped to conduct further “combat turns” and “touch-and-go” landings of F-35’s.
Angaur State Governor Kennosuke Suzuky said that he has requested the US military to install lighting for the airport as well as maintenance along the airport’s perimeters. However, complications arise from Angaur’s limited supplies of construction equipment, which all must be brought in by the Air Force or shipped from Koror.
“Angaur will continue supporting the United States and its activities in Angaur,” said Governor Suzuky. “But we’re also hoping that Angaur itself can be supported with equipment and funding, so we can provide the help they need.”
In August 2020, the Koa Moana Task Force of the US Marines helped to enlarge Angaur’s Airstrip by an additional 21 acres, which went on to host the US Army’s Defender Pacific Exercise in September. Next month, the military may carry out another exercise focusing on maritime surveillance.
Governor Suzuky said that he has been working hard to help establish a military presence on Angaur, which housed a station for the US Coast Guard up to the late 1970’s.
According to the Governor, hosting military bases could be mutually beneficial for the US and Angaur.
“That’s what we’re really hoping for, that the military will fix the airport and build an active base,” said Governor Suzuky. “At the end of the day, if we have the military presence in Angaur, it will help with many things such as first responding in the event of an emergency, and jobs.”
The Governor stressed that having an active base on island would help boost the State’s economy. Right now, the Angaur Government is the sole employer on the island. The Governor said that more than half of the operational funding given to the State by the National Government goes to salaries of State employees, and that much of the rest is used on fuel costs to transport people and supplies from Koror to Angaur. Between $6 and $7 thousand a month from the State budget is spent on fuel for the Regina IV, Angaur’s ferry, as well as the State speedboats.
“If the military can employ some people in Angaur, it will have a spillover effect on our operational budget,” said the Governor.
However, whether such a base is in the planning is still very uncertain, he said, stressing that a lot of possibilities have been discussed with the military, but nothing has been set in stone.
In addition to airfield repair, the US military has purchased land on Angaur for radar sites and radio towers, as part of the Aerial Domain Awareness Program. But Governor Suzuky said that the land is still jungle, and construction of the site has not yet begun.
The current exercise, Cope North 2021, is an annual multilateral exercise between the US Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, focusing on practice among the three nations in providing defense and humanitarian assistance to the Indo-Pacific.
Most of the Cope North exercise has been taking place at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. In addition to practicing combat maneuvers, exercises have included aeromedical evacuation missions, which use dummies to simulate an injured patient who is safely transported aboard a landed aircraft and flown away, as well as parachuted drops of emergency equipment from aircrafts.
US Ambassador John Hennessey-Niland stressed that the operations are part of a “team effort” among the US and its partners to “provide for the defense and security of our allies”.
“It’s all part of the Indo-Pacific strategy to link the Pacific islands as closely as we can to each other, and with the US and its friends,” said Ambassador Niland.