US Air Force issues $409 million award for long-sought Pacific airfield

by Vern Evans

The U.S. Air Force has awarded a contract for an airfield on Tinian, a Pacific island military leaders consider crucial to their plans in the region.

Fluor, an engineering and construction company based in Irving, Texas, will receive about $409 million to finish the project within five years, the company announced April 10.

Tinian is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory north of Guam and about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines. The Air Force launched bomber raids against Japan from Tinian during World War II. Since then, the island’s jungle has grown over the finished runways.

For years, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command — the military organization responsible for the region — has wanted to rebuild them. Its goal is part of what the Air Force calls Agile Combat Employment — divvying U.S. forces into smaller groups around the region. More, smaller groups would make American positions harder to target, the argument goes.

The top military and civilian leaders in the Air Force visited the island earlier this month to survey work on the airfield. Since January, airmen have started to clear hundreds of acres of jungle so that construction work can begin.

Indo-Pacific Command sends lawmakers an annual wish list of projects it deems necessary to deter a conflict in the region. This year’s list included $4.8 billion for infrastructure, though about a fifth of these construction projects show up in the Pentagon’s budget request for fiscal 2025.

Pentagon and military leaders in the Pacific sometimes disagree on where to spend money in the region and what work is even possible in the short term. That’s particularly true when it comes to construction. Materials and workers are much more expensive on Pacific islands than in the continental United States, and projects require bureaucratic rigmarole to start.

The result is often a path paved by delays, a Republican congressional aide told Defense News in January.

“The money takes very long to show up,” the aide said. “Then simultaneously you’re dealing with horrific bureaucratic problems.”

As a U.S. territory with existing sites to build on and mostly flat land, Tinian should be one of the easier places for the Defense Department to work, the aide said.

“It’s not a complicated project.”

Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.

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