What is the point of having the best and most advanced military aircraft in the world if you can’t fly them? What would happen if the Chinese military launched a major attack against U.S. military airfields in the Indo-Pacific region?
These are some of the questions the Pentagon is pondering as it is shifting to Great Power Competition with near-peer adversaries, such as Russia and China.
The RADAS Project
The U.S. Air Force’s 36th Civil Engineering Squadron and 544th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer have been working on assessing airfields’ damage and bringing them back online quickly.
To do so, the two Air Force units have created the Rapid Airfield Damage Assessment System (RADAS), which uses small remotely piloted aircraft that are specially designed to minimize the hazardous exposure to troops that are assessing a runway after an enemy attack.
“RADAS is meant to replace the legacy Airfield Damage Assessment Team. Both are meant to locate and measure flight line damage and unexploded ordnances on the airfield following an attack, so that a minimum airfield operating surface (MAOS) can be determined for aircraft to take off or land safely,” Second Lieutenant Ryan English, a project programmer from the 36th Civil Engineering Squadron, said in a press release.
Besides ensuring the safety of repair parties, the RADAS project also seeks to reduce the battle assessment process and expedite the repair process of a damaged runway.
“While RADAS is much more expensive technology, it is much safer and is being developed to be much quicker than ADAT [Airfield Damage Assessment Team]. After an attack, a MAOS will need to be identified as early as possible, and RADAS is sent during Alarm Black Initial Release. The goal for RADAS is to identify three MAOS candidates in 30 minutes or less, while ADAT may take hours,” English added.
The main difference between the old ADAT and the new RADAS systems is technology. Whereas in the former, troops would have to walk or drive on the damaged runway and potentially get exposed to unexploded munitions or the toxic effects of exploded ones, in the latter a drone does all the work, and the troops remain safely behind.
The two units have been testing the RADAS on Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, which could be the target of a Chinese attack in the event of a conflict.
Airfields in a War with China
The attack on Pearl Harbor that pulled the U.S. into World War Two showcased the devasting impact of an attack on a major naval and airbase. There are countless other examples of surprise attacks on airfields that gave the attacker a decisive advantage in the war—the German Luftwaffe’s onslaught on the first days of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and the Israeli preemptive attack against its Arab neighbors during the Six Day War in 1967, are just a couple of such examples.
U.S. and allied airfields in the Indo-Pacific will all be targets of Chinese attack in the event of a conflict. That attack could come in a number of ways, including a special operations raid, ballistic missile strike, or an airstrike.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) is currently adapting the RADAS and employing it to airfields throughout its area of responsibility.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.