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USAF to modernize Wake Island Airfield for Pacific Operations

by Dario Leone
USAF to modernize Wake Island Airfield for Pacific Operations

Wake Island Airfield holds great significance to the USAF because it serves as a trans-Pacific refueling depot for military missions in addition to being a military training and missile testing location.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is executing $87 million in critical airfield construction at one of the most isolated Air Force installations to enhance operational and defense capabilities for US forces.

As told by Mila Cisneros, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public Affairs, in the article AFCEC leads major airfield modernization at Wake Island Airfield, the outpost, known as Wake Island Airfield, holds great significance to the US Air Force (USAF) because it serves as a trans-Pacific refueling depot for military missions in addition to being a military training and missile testing location.

This two-and-a-half square-mile coral atoll, made of three islets, is considered the air bridge for Air Force aircraft flying across the Pacific Ocean because of its unique location and the 9,800-foot runway.

It’s the runway that is of central importance. It enables the USAF to conduct their mission, and in case of emergency, allows military aircraft to be diverted to land there safely.

As the longest in the Pacific Islands, the runway has deteriorated after many years of use.

“Timely infrastructure is critical to mission assurance. We are proud of our contributions to construct mission-ready and power projecting platforms that enable commanders increased readiness and lethality,” said Col. David Norton, director of AFCEC’s Facility Engineering Directorate.

Wake Island is a US Territory, and has been named a National Historic Landmark due to the World War II battle that took place at the atoll in 1941. On Dec. 8, 1941, it was attacked by the Japanese, who, after a hard fought battle with US Forces assigned to the island, took possession two weeks later. It was surrendered by the Japanese on Sep. 4, 1945. The Air Force took control of the island in 1973.

Located halfway between Hawaii and Japan, the atoll handles between 500 and 600 aircraft annually and needs improved infrastructure to fully support the Air Force mission. The installation is operated by the Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

Partnering with the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, AFCEC is engaged in multiple projects to modernize the airfield infrastructure and supporting facilities on the island.

“AFCEC is a key player in ensuring infrastructure for the Air Force to enable mission capability and success for the warfighter,” Norton said. “Our team of experts is committed to restore full capability to the airfield and facilities to ensure the island remains a vital strategic link in the Pacific region.”

AFCEC’s Facility Engineering Directorate awarded the construction contract in February 2019.

USAF to modernize Wake Island Airfield for Pacific Operations
Shown is the view from an MC-130H Combat Talon II flying over Wake Island, July 20, 2015. Wake Island is a U.S. Territory operated by the U.S. Air Force through Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

This effort, executed by AECOM, a California-headquartered contractor, will modernize the airfield infrastructure by repairing and expanding Taxiway Bravo and the Hot Cargo Pad.

AFCEC delivered the design for this construction and is responsible for overall management of the project.

After the pre-construction phase, construction began in March 2020 and is slated for completion by spring 2021.

“The remote location of the Wake atoll required extensive logistics planning to ship construction equipment, material, parts and supplies which we successfully accomplished in November 2019,” said Capt. David Leonard, AFCEC’s project manager.

The in-progress work on Taxiway Bravo will add new aprons and shoulders with rigid pavement. The paving started in April 2020 and is near completion.

“The existing paving was in poor condition and needed upgrades to meet Air Force standards for aircraft parking,” Leonard said. “The repair will include aircraft hardstands for fighter and heavy aircraft.”

The effort also includes repair of two drain pipes in the existing drainage basin that run under the aprons and taxiway. They will be replaced with 24-inch reinforced concrete piping.

Construction is also underway for the existing airfield Hot Cargo Pad – a high security zone used for loading and unloading ammunition, explosives and other hazardous material.

“As a safety precaution the Hot Cargo Pad area is currently closed to aircraft because of its unsafe surface until it’s fully repaired,” Leonard said.

Ultimately, the infrastructure will accommodate C-17 Globemaster III operations, which is the Air Force’s most flexible cargo aircraft capable of rapid, strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo.

Upon completion of construction, the modernized airfield will receive new lighting, grounding and pavement markings to support mission readiness and global air mobility.

C-17 Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. C-17A Globemaster III 60th Air Mobility Wing / 349th Air Mobility Wing, 21st Airlift Squadron, 06-6160 – Travis AFB, CA

Photo credit: Cpl. Francisco J. Diaz Jr. / U.S. Marine Corps and Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer / U.S. Air Force

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