Federal contractors have long been focused on the amount of money that will pour into the Pacific region. What began in 2006 as an agreement to move U.S. Marine Corps personnel from Okinawa to Guam, now involves moving Marines to other locations that include Hawaii and Australia, with the number of personnel reduced to about 5,000 who will come to Guam in deployments for training, and about 2,500 permanently stationed on the island at various military locations. The Marines will have a fully-fledged base at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, and the U.S. military’s Guam Realignment might as well be called the Western Pacific Realignment, as firm plans include strategic locations in the Micronesia region and beyond. For contractors busy with present and upcoming military construction in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and to some extent Palau, President Joseph R. Biden’s fiscal 2024 budget — unveiled on March 9, gives them pause, but then it’s back to the problems of 2023.
The U.S Department of Defense budget request totals $842 billion and ramping up the U.S. military presence in the “Indo-Pacific,” is one of its stated priorities.
Biden’s fiscal 2024 budget references the Department of Defense’s 2024 $9.1 billion Pacific Deterrence Initiative, or “$9.1 billion of targeted investments the Department is making to U.S. force posture, infrastructure, presence, and readiness as well as efforts to bolster the capacity and capabilities of U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, primarily west of the International Date Line,” the White house says.
“The budget continues to increase DOD’s security cooperation funding planned for the Indo-Pacific region, focused on building capacity across a range of areas, to include domain awareness, logistics, cybersecurity, and command and control,” the White House says in its March 9 fact sheet on the budget.
“The budget also supports investments to accelerate critical weapons and munitions production lines; develop capabilities like long-range strike, undersea, hypersonic, and autonomous systems; and increase resiliency of our space architectures — all of which support the Department’s efforts to align investments with policies and activities that will sustain and strengthen deterrence, it says.
In the meantime, U.S. military construction and its stated intentions for defense in the countries of Micronesia, in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands continue.
Guam has the lion’s share of construction — due to the much-delayed Marine Corps Camp Blaz and also work on other installations on Guam — current and upcoming — like the submarine base at Polaris Point, according to Marianas Business Journal files.
Various multiple award construction or MAC contracts are already in play.
Camp Blaz is now ramping up — also due to pressure from Japan — which in past years has seen its $3 billion contribution to construction merely trickle out. Delays have pushed the estimated peak of construction back to 2027. Construction companies are busy in Guam, also with island projects “outside the fence.” Whether U.S.-based contractors will be willing to face the challenges of doing business in the Mariana Islands for upcoming contracts is one question, as is the fact that those contractors have potential work in the U.S. mainland, due to other Biden administration initiatives like the Build Back Better Act.
At a Feb. 22 joint meeting of the American Society of Military Engineers and Naval Facilities Engineering and Systems Command Marianas and the Officer in Charge of Construction for the Marine Corps in Guam, NAVFAC Marianas said it was on track for $1 billion to $2 billion of work in progress in the islands.
Those projects include radar in Palau. The U.S. has Air and Maritime Domain Awareness radar assets in Kayangel and Angaur as of October 2019, with more planned in Ngaraard, according to Journal files.
The latest radar is a Tactical Multi-Mission Over the Horizon Radar with a transmitter site on Babeldaob and a receiver on the island of Angaur, known as TACMOR. CAPE Environmental Management Inc. was awarded a $12.23 million task order for “site preparation” in May 2022, and Gilbane Federal was awarded a $118.37 million contract for the construction of reinforced concrete pads and foundations in December, expected to be completed in June 2026.
In Tinian, Nov. 30, 2021, Black Micro Corp. in the Northern Mariana Islands was awarded a $161.82 million firm-fixed-price contract for “site development and for the construction of an aircraft parking apron and taxiway at the Tinian International Airport,” for the divert airfield on the island. That work is due to be completed in October 2025, which leaves the second phase – the fuel pipeline from Tinian Harbor to the airfield, tank storage and more. The award of the second part of the contract is imminent, according to Journal files.
In Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, a divert airfield is planned adjacent to the current airport.
Problems in Guam and the NMI center around labor and the need for imported foreign labor, the need for governments to support their lagging tourist industries, and a stated concern for the culture of the islands – which is also impacted by a high profile, sensitive and sometimes uneasy management of discovery of cultural remains and artifacts, and issues with former landowners in Guam. Military contractors are mindful of cultural concerns and must be mindful of them due to the presence of State Historic Preservation offices and their governance. In Palau, agreements with landowners are a factor in military plans for radar.