In short: soccer fields. Yes, soccer fields—lots of them. A vast fleet of unsinkable and inexpensive “ships” (island bases) that will ensure entry, invited or otherwise, and would thus provide a ready-made receiving area for the quick introduction of assistance and vital supplies to the affected areas of a disaster.
Or else, for the quick interdiction of Marines armed with antiship missiles. Toshi Yoshihara, author of Red Star over the Pacific, advocates that we play the Chinese at their own game by denying them access to the Pacific. Large, flat and firm, not to mention numerous, every fútbol field in the Pacific needs to be mapped, charted and logged into a database for immediate cross-referencing.
Enter now the successful deployment of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey—true, to many, a more fitting sobriquet might have been to call the accident-prone aircraft an Albatross. But it would appear now that this enduring curse has lifted like a fog, the ship's crew once again happy comrades, as in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
“The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.”
With a new lease on life, the V-22 Osprey has spread its wings and has soared into battle as well as disaster relief, and has acquitted itself nicely. This peculiar bird is a hybrid: part helicopter, part airplane. With a range of over a thousand miles, the ability to touch down without an airstrip, fly above bad weather and carry heavier load capabilities, it is once again possible to island hop across the Pacific. Perhaps they could conduct rapid response to natural disasters or emergency medical evacuations, rescue a besieged consulate or, in extremis, bring troops to the battlefield in a war.
As that old military adage warns: “Tactics are for amateurs, logistics are for professionals.”
The combination of the enhanced capabilities of the V-22 and the use of existing and/or retrofitted soccer arenas to accommodate their speedy deployment would be one possible answer to a quick and effective response—no extensive naval fleet necessary. In addition to charting approach routes and securing local government cooperation in the planning and conducting of biannual drills, it should be noted that the South Pacific has an established tradition of hosting sporting tournaments, centered around soccer, known as the Pacific Games. A firm understanding of this athletic circuit, occurring every four years at a different island locale, will greatly assist in the planning of any future deployments.
A further extension of the concept (and budget) would be to design and construct new, state-of-the art sports facilities to replace existing fields where possible. This will greatly enhance the safety and logistical throughput of any future visits, along with building good will among the local populace.
Revenue from such projects (using local labor where possible) will help stimulate struggling island economies without the side effects of heavy footprints from American occupation. “No bases, just places” should be our mantra—or better yet, “speak softly, and assume that everyone already knows you have a big stick.”
Sports arenas should be designed to accommodate aircraft parking revetments by the quick storage of removable bleacher seats. The support walls for the bleachers would act as blast shields to protect aircraft from the elements, as well as limiting the damage of any explosion or refueling mishap. High-tech wireless and wiring redundancies should be installed (with a “plug-and-play” capability) to enhance the ability of the press booth to handle a mobile air traffic control unit for the safe and speedy arrival and departure of helicopters and/or tilt-rotor aircraft, such as the Osprey. A short runway extension from the parking lot could handle a C-130 Hercules transport, a master hauler of the short field landing, or the vertical-liftoff F-35B (but that would be more fang than friend).
A large video screen with a robust audio speaker system should be used to communicate critical information to first responders and refugees. Modern concession stands could be used to accommodate the hydration and feeding of thousands. Laying out the necessary space for temporary installation of a state-of-the-art medical facility would also be advisable. Locker rooms could be used to accommodate air and ground crews. Proper ventilation and drainage studies would be needed to appreciate the heavy signature of the V-22, along with absorbing the wind wash. A logistical train required for effective deployment and remote field maintenance would be assumed.
Pre-positioned fuel tanks and spare parts bins beneath parking lots could provide some additional measure of safety when dealing with refueling operations and field repair. Large and locked gates could secure and monitor traffic into and out of the arena, and would facilitate the ease of access for large wheeled supply vehicles—think of the arena in the film Black Hawk Down.
One simple and single converted merchant ship would provide the Navy, Marines or even the Coast Guard with the necessary landing pad and logistics to service a pair of Ospreys. The military might even consider loaning the Coast Guard a few Marine Corps Ospreys (paint them in red and white Coast Guard colors) and use Marine pilots for a short rotational tour in the U.S. Pacific Territories. And why not give those guys and gals at the Fish and Wildlife Service an edge in catching those pesky poachers?
The State Department can pitch in and provide a mobile embassy with consular services aboard, as well as large sick bay where medical NGOs are able to operate. And FEMA can allocate an agent to survey the islands to establish disaster-relief protocols with the locals—using those soccer fields, if need be.
A feasibility study should be granted, to ensure that all problems are vetted and all opportunities explored. But at minimum, an island-hopping endurance flight of Ospreys from American Samoa to Darwin (passing out candy and Zika medical supplies along the way) will go a long way to demonstrate our commitment to the area.
Long-seasoned China wonk Michael Pillsbury admitted he was wrong about China’s peaceful rise. The sudden and illegal island reclamation from reefs in the South China Sea supports this thesis. And a recently retired and outspoken naval intelligence officer for the Pacific fleet, Capt. James Fanell, infamously remarked “I told you so” regarding China's naval aggression in the East and South China Seas, along with the troubling declaration of an Air Defense Zone in the east, followed by one soon to be declared to the south.
So while we make obscene gestures and dig trenches along the Nine- (or Ten)-Dash Line, we concern ourselves almost completely with holding the First Island Chain. Let’s not also forget the second and third, while lending a helping hand to our forgotten island allies of World War II.
JG Randall is a former Marine. He is currently a stockbroker.