Mitchell Institute Forum Paper No. 17: The Imperative for Base Defense In the Western Pacific

ARLINGTON, Va (January 31, 2018) — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce the release of its latest Mitchell Forum paper, Keeping A2/AD at Bay: The Imperative for Base Defense in the Western Pacific, by Lt Col Thomas R. McCabe, USAF (Ret.).

With its vast distances, rising near-peer military powers, and rogue actors like North Korea pursuing nuclear weapons and improved missile technology, the Asia-Pacific region presents a significant national security challenge for the United States. Aerospace power has proved a vital tool to projecting US influence and military power across the region, but potential adversaries such as China and North Korea are working to improve anti-access and area denial weapons (A2/AD) that could put US aerospace power in jeopardy. By threatening a debilitating “first strike” on forward bases and airfields in the event of a crisis with these fielding of these weapons, China especially is attempting to “unilaterally change the balance of power across the Western Pacific,” by taking away the American ability to secure air superiority, McCabe writes. In response, he argues, the US should reinvigorate airbase defense as a priority in the region, from hardening key air facilities to improving and diversifying air defenses.

McCabe, a former civilian airpower and military analyst with the Department of Defense, explores the nature and capability of this increasing A2/AD threat to US and allied bases in his paper, as well as some of the countermeasures the US could use to help preserve vital access and options in the region.

McCabe notes that while the likelihood of conflict between the US and China is presently low, China has expanded its effort to deploy large numbers of ballistic missiles, modern aircraft, and cruise missiles across the Western Pacific that can range US bases in Japan, South Korea, and on Guam. A good number of these bases are relatively close to the Chinese mainland, and though some facilities have been hardened to withstand attack, many were built or improved before the advent of modern precision-guided munitions. Much like US bases in South Korea have operated on the assumption they could be subject to attack on short notice, McCabe writes, this mindset should be duplicated at Western Pacific bases and at select other facilities in the face of the rising A2/AD threat, and a mix of defenses and countermeasures should be implemented in order to prevent the possibility of a crippling first strike in a crisis.

The Mitchell Forum series provides a venue for authors with ideas, concepts, and thoughts on national defense and aerospace power to engage with current and emerging policy debates and issues.

For more information on the series, and inquiries about submissions, contact Mitchell’s Director of Publications Marc V. Schanz at or visit our website, at

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