Wake Island was taken from the United States by Imperial Japanese forces within a few weeks after Emperor Hirohito’s navy sent hundreds of warplanes to bomb and destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. A small force of U.S. Marines and civilians held off the Japanese for about two weeks, but they eventually overran the island outpost at a significant cost.
Located about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) west of Hawaii and 600 miles (approximately 1,000 km) north of the [then] Japanese-held Marshall Islands, Wake Island impressed American naval planners as an ideal site for an advance defensive outpost.
Wake Island would remain in Japanese hands for the remainder of World War II, but afterward, it was re-garrisoned by the United States military, serving mostly as a highly restricted staging area for U.S. aircraft operating in the region and a first line of defense of the American homeland.
In recent months, the island’s infrastructure has been dramatically increased and improved, as part of the U.S. Navy’s “pivot toward the Pacific” — the Trump administration’s ongoing strategy of moving more military resources to the region in order to check a surging China.
According to new satellite imagery published by The Drive, there have been substantial improvements and expansions made both to the island’s nearly 10,000-foot runway and to its facilities. Indeed, “Wake is the only 10,000-foot runway for a 4,000 stretch of the Pacific Ocean,” according to a military public affairs report.
In 2016, the report said that the 2.8-square mile island “handles a modest 500 to 600 aircraft annually, but it does so with a staff of about six. The same three people marshal, service and refuel every plane.”
The Drive notes:
New satellite imagery that The War Zone obtained from Planet Labs dated June 25th, 2020 shows that substantial improvements to the base have occurred recently. Based on archival satellite imagery, the major expansions to the airfield began early this year and are still underway today.
One satellite image “shows the large eastern apron area's big expansion, as well as an enlarged secondary apron area on the west end on the runway. The runway itself has been completely rebuilt,” the site added.
The Pentagon has spent hundreds of millions of dollars improving the runway, aircraft staging areas, and infrastructure. There is now a large solar farm on the west end of the island. And, as The Drive notes, it’s likely that the Pentagon will continue pouring money and resources into Wake as tensions with China ramp up again.
What’s also notable is that Wake sits outside the range of China’s and North Korea’s medium-range ballistic missiles, whereas Guam — another U.S. outpost in the Pacific — doesn’t. Wake is also outside of their intermediate range missiles as well, most likely.
The build-up at Wake comes amid Chinese improvements to manmade islands and other atolls in the South China Sea.
Late last month, President Trump’s national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, said the U.S. would no longer treat China as gently as previous administrations have.
“The days of American passivity and naivety regarding the People’s Republic of China are over,” O’Brien told a group of Arizona business leaders in Phoenix. “America, under President Trump’s leadership, has finally awoken to the threat of the Chinese Communist Party’s actions and the threat they pose to our great way of life.”
Wake Island appears to be factoring into the administration’s ‘confront China’ strategy.