Amid China’s growing belligerence, the United States is conducting a joint exercise with Australia and Japan on Guam, an island territory in Micronesia, to conduct disaster relief operations, as well as to conduct large force employment and combat air forces training.
The annual exercise at the Andersen Air Force Base (COPE North 21) scheduled until February 19, is seen in view of “increasing vulnerability” to attack from China or Russia, South China Morning Post reported.
In a first for Cope North, the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter will participate, integrating with Koku-Jieitai and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft. The focus of this integration is on common communications capabilities and web-enabled logistics support.
“Air forces from the United States, Japan and Australia will participate in Cope North 2021 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, February 3-19 to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) operations, as well as to conduct large force employment and combat air forces training,” the US air force in the Pacific said in a statement.
The fighters will also conduct close air support and offensive and defensive counter-air and aerial refueling missions, concluding with a large force employment exercise designed to increase readiness and interoperability among the three countries.
“China and Russia can increasingly hold overseas US bases at risk. To adapt, the air force must evolve from its dependence on well-established airfields or risk building an operational edge,” Brigadier General Jeremy Sloane, commander of the 36th Wing at Andersen, told a virtual event, as quoted by the South China Morning Post.
“While the service can overcome some disadvantages with long-range bombers, a war in which missiles knock out American airbases and prevent the ability to launch and recover short-range fighter jets is unlikely to end well,” Brigadier General Sloane added.
The exercise is to ensure the connection between the Guam base and other bases, if it comes under attack from Bejing, said Song Zhongping, a Chinese military analyst.
“In addition, the fourth-generation aircraft and the fifth-generation aircraft are connected to form this mutual protection plan to ensure that these bases can survive on the one hand and continue to perform effective counterattacks on the other,” the analyst added.
He further said that the inclusion of Australia and Japan in the exercise is to build a strategy with its allies to counter Bejing and it could use bases in those countries to respond to any possible attack.
Timothy Heath, a defence researcher at the US-based Rand Corporation, said: “The ability to operate in more austere airfields means that the PLA cannot confidently plan to wipe out the US air force presence in the Asia-Pacific by smothering established airfields like that at Kadena Air Base [in Okinawa] with missiles.”
“With this new capability, the US Air Force can flexibly deploy to other locations, improving the survivability of its aircraft. What this means for China is that the PLA will be less confident in its ability to defeat US military forces in the region because they will be less certain were fighter aircraft might operate from,” said Heath, as quoted by SCMP.