The famous World War II island where a B-29 named Enola Gay and its pilot, Col. Paul Tibbets Jr., came together Aug. 6, 1945, to lead a mission that would deploy a uranium bomb known as "Little Boy" over Hiroshima, Japan, is soon to be back in use.
Tinian iIsland, just north of Guam, has been selected as a preferred alternative divert and exercise training island, Air Force officials announced Wednesday.
"The purpose of the initiative is to establish additional divert capabilities to support training activities, while ensuring the capability to meet mission requirements in the event access to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, or other western Pacific locations is limited or denied," officials said in a news release.
The plan will also improve and support the Tinian airport, which would be able to take up to 12 tanker aircraft and support personnel; The Air Force would conduct at most eight exercises per year.
"We believe this initiative will provide critical strategic operational and exercise capabilities for U.S. forces and provide economic benefits to the local community," Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in the release.
"The divert initiative in the [Northern Mariana Islands] will create the only divert airfield in the Western Pacific and provide the U.S. Air Force the capability to conduct either temporary or sustained refueling operations from an additional location in the region," Gen.eral Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force, added. "It will also give us another location to use when supporting contingency or natural disaster responses in the region."
The Air Force did not elaborate on Tinian's strategic location, but the latest news about the island hosting more aircraft comes as China has made territorial claims in the South China Sea and North Korea has continued to test nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
As backup, the Air Force is also looking at Saipan in any event an environmental impact study — which analyzes noise, cultural and historical interests, safety, potential effect on natural and coastal resources — determines Tinian is not a good fit. Or, the Air Force may use both Saipan and Tinian, a hybrid modified alternative that was previously analyzed in the June 2012.
The EIS study is pending, but the Air Force will release its findings this spring, the release said.
"During the comment period, we heard from government agencies and community members on both Saipan and Tinian," Gen. Lori Robinson, commander of PACAF said. "They expressed an overwhelming desire to have the divert initiative on Tinian."
Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East, Europe and Pacific for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.