USAF Hornets refuel over Wake Island in the Western Pacific. Credit: USAF.

Things are heating up in the Pacific.

As China slowly grows stronger in the region and flexes its power, the ongoing US Navy “pivot toward the Pacific” is making US bases more important in the scheme of things, and one of the most important is Wake Island, Tyler Rogoway of The Drive reported.

America’s remote outpost deep in the Pacific, situated roughly between Japan and Hawaii, it serves as a reserve airfield should American airpower have to fallback from the far reaches of Western Pacific during a conflict.

It also provides a reverse utility, working as a staging ground in a crisis for air combat missions heading west, into Russia’s and especially China’s highly-defended  area-denial bubbles that emanate far from their shores, The Drive reported.

The restricted access island — which is one of the most remote on Earth — is an unincorporated territory of the United States that is also claimed by the Marshall Islands.

The vast majority of the atoll is taken up by a 9,800-foot runway — long enough to accommodate anything in the Pentagon’s inventory — and the airfield infrastructure and staging areas that surround it, The Drive reported.

Although it supports some missile defense tests with launchpads scattered around its southernmost tip, it is best known for being an emergency diversion point.

New satellite imagery that The War Zone obtained from Planet Labs dated June 25th, 2020 shows that substantial improvements to the base have occurred recently, The Drive reported.

The new satellite image is posted below and you can see a full-resolution version of here. It shows the large eastern apron area’s big expansion, as well as an enlarged secondary apron.

The runway itself has been completely rebuilt and a large solar farm has been added in the western area of the island.

It’s more likely than not that even more investment into the island’s infrastructure will be made in the near term as rising tensions with China, North Korea, and Russia have reinvigorated the strategic importance of the remote base, The Drive reported.

In fact, not since the Second World War has the base garnered so much importance.

Beyond its clear logistical utility, acting as a major hub where there isn’t another for thousands of miles, it sits outside the range of China’s and North Korea’s medium-range ballistic missiles, and largely at the end, if not entirely out of range, of their intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). Guam, which is situated about 1,500 miles further west, is well within the range of these weapons. 

During the opening stages of a major conflict with China, America’s bases that are within range of these missiles would be overwhelmed by them, at the very least knocking bases like Kadena in Okinawa out of commission, The Drive reported.

These strikes would likely be layered with cruise missile attacks, making them harder to defend against and upping the odds that Beijing could neuter American airpower throughout the region in the opening exchanges of a conflict. 

Guam, which hosts a key US naval base and the sprawling Andersen Air Force Base, would be targeted as well, although at greater range. 

So, you can see how Wake Island quickly becomes a key fallback position during what could be an incredibly violent and fast-moving conflic, The Drive reported.

The idea of making Wake Island a hub of airpower activity that looks to overcome the “tyranny of distance” that is so closely associated with conflict in the Pacific Theater is already being trialed.

Just last year, B-2 Spirits used the airfield for the first time as a forward re-arming and refueling point, with their sorties beginning at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, not Guam.