Exercise Geiger Fury is well underway at Anderson AFB, Guam and on the sleepy island of Tinian. Tinian lies just south of Saipan, and is about 100 miles to the north of Guam. Both Saipan and Tinian are part of the Northern Marianas Commonwealth. Geiger Fury is no small dissimilar air combat or readiness exercise, the operation will see Marine fast jet squadrons VMFA(AW)-121 and VMFA(AW)-242, as well as VMFA-232 deploy as if during a time of war. They will be accompanied by Marine C-130 and helicopter support units as well. What makes this exercise so different from those in the past is that MAG-12 will be turning an austere island into capable air base.
Historically the Marine Corps been known to storm beaches, establish strongholds, and turn an objective into an asset. During WWII the USMC famously hopped from island to island, pushing back the Japanese empire to a point where long range bombing missions could begin using the then state of the art B-29 Bombers. Fast forward 70 years and it seems that the United States has found itself in a similar predicament, how do you win a war against a deeply entrenched enemy while being subject to the Pacific Theater’s “tyranny of distance?” You run the same plays that worked well the better half of a century ago, and that is precisely what Geiger Fury is all about. Such dispersed operations will be key in succeeding during a war in the Pacific against a foe like China, whose strategy of choice is denying a foe close proximity basing via ballistic missiles and other unique capabilities, thus tactical air-power cannot be brought to bear. Thus being able to take an obscure island with rudimentary infrastructure and turn it into a fast tactical jet base gives the US a survivable option should things heat up in the South China Sea. What is somewhat coincidental about the location of this exercise is that Tinian was a major B-29 base during WWII and found it’s place branded in history books by being the launching point for both atomic bombings of Japan. These missions would bring about the end of the war years before what was predicted if a conventional invasion were have been executed.
The USMC has landed on Tinian Island utilizing C-130s and the roll-on-roll-off high-speed catamaran logistics ship the WV Westpac Express. Once established on the island the Marines went hard to work setting up living, command and control, fuel, and aircraft staging facilities. Also, as part of the operation the Marines will rehabilitate the Island’s long abandoned north field runways, built to launch the aforementioned massive B-29 formations against the Japanese Mainland. In doing so the island, which currently has a single 8500′ modern runway, will be able to operate helicopters, C-130s and even Harriers if need be off of the renovated, yet still highly austere north runways. Further, an arresting cable was installed for the first time deep into coral at the main airport, and the participating Hornets will train at operating under short takeoff and landing conditions, which could be needed if they have to deploy to tiny islands during a time of war in Pacific. The whole exercise will culminate in continuous around the clock flight operations from both Anderson AFB in Guam and both of Tinian’s airfields, with the austere north runway complex supporting multiple C-130 and helicopter operations. Over this culmination period MAG-12 will literally give it all they got, putting as many sorties in the air and as many weapons on target, both live and simulated, as possible.
After years of landlocked conflict in the Middle East its great to see Marines get back to doing what they have historically done best: fight their way into the most inhospitable places on earth, build a stronghold out of nothing, and proceed to blow the enemy up and break their things at breakneck speed. At the same time it truly is astonishing how hard and fast the DoD and the White House’s pivot has been away form counter insurgency warfare to possible peer state conflict in the Pacific Theater, and this exercise is just another sign of that change in focus. With any luck all this training will be a big enough deterrent to possible aggressors that these once dusty capabilities will never be needed in a real shooting of war.