Westpac Yesterday And Today

 

By Diane Diekman and Mark Mlikan

 

Commander, Fleet Air Western Pacific has been overseeing naval aviation in the Western Pacific for almost fifty years. Old-timers probably remember COMFAIRWESTPAC as a one star admiral who owned NAS Cubi Point, NAF Agana, NAF Atsugi, NAF Misawa, NSF Diego Garcia, and NAF Kadena, with functional wing responsibilities over HC-5, HC-7, VQ-1, VQ-5 and VRC-50.

World politics, base realignment and closure (BRAC) fallout, shore installation management (SIM) realignment, and Congressionally mandated billet reductions all played roles in reducing and reshaping the infrastructure. In 1993 the COMFAIRWESTPAC flag billet was downgraded to an O-6 Commodore and the staff eventually reduced to sixty personnel.

COMFAIRWESTPAC is still COMNAVAIRPAC's agent for theater logistics and aircraft maintenance issues in WESTPAC. Its one subordinate command is Naval Airborne Weapons Maintenance Unit One (NAWMU-1) on Guam. It oversees Naval Aviation Technical Data and Engineering Service Command (NATEC) Det Atsugi, better remembered as NAESU.

Commander Naval Forces Japan at Yokosuka owns NAF Atsugi, NAF Misawa, NSF Diego Garcia, and Commander Fleet Activities at Yokosuka (CFAY), Sasebo (CFAS) and Okinawa (CFAO).

This article will describe some of the major changes among WESTPAC commands in recent years.

 

NAS CUBI POINT

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines closed Clark Air Base but NAS Cubi Point and NS Subic Bay survived. They remained operational until the U.S. withdrawal in 1992. At that time COMLOGWESTPAC moved to Singapore and COMFAIRWESTPAC Det Cubi Point was disestablished. VRC-50 relocated to Andersen AB Guam and VC-5 decommissioned.

Ninety-four years of American military presence in the Philippines ended on 24 November 1992 when the last American ship--USS BELLEAU WOOD--left Subic Bay. This legendary duty station and port-of-call is now a free trade zone and recreation area called Subic Bay Freeport. Part of the famous Cubi Point O-Club bar can be found at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.

Of major impact for maintainers was the closure of AIMD Cubi Point, which boasted the largest jet shop in the Navy at the time. WESTPAC presently has four engine first degree repair sites: AIMD Misawa (T56-A-14), AIMD Atsugi (T58-GE-402), MALS-12 at MCAS Iwakuni (F404-GE-400/402, J52-P-408A and F402-RR-408A) and MALS-36 at MCAS Futenma (T700-GE-401/401C, T64-GE-416, T58-GE-16, T400-CP-400 and T64-GE-413). All other engines are produced in CONUS and shipped to WESTPAC.

 

NAS AGANA

Fifty years of service as the "Gateway to the Orient" ended 1 April 1995 when NAS Agana, Guam, closed. VQ-1 had already moved to NAS Whidbey Island. VQ-5, commissioned at NAS Agana on 15 April 1991, relocated to NAS North Island, with VQ-5 Det 5 established at NAF Misawa. VQ-5 is decommissioning this year, the ES-3A concept having come full-circle.

VRC-50 decommissioned 30 September 1994 (after 28 years of service) and VRC-30 Det 5 stood up at NAF Atsugi as the CVW-5 COD element. VRC-50's other C-2A aircraft went to VRC-30 at NAS North Island.

HC-5 relocated from NAS Agana to the north ramp of Andersen Air Base. In 1996 it moved into a new hangar originally designed for VRC-50. It is the only remaining naval aircraft custodian on Guam. HC-5 provides detachments to Seventh and Fifth Fleet ships, as well as local SAR and logistics support.

When NAS Agana closed, portions of its AIMD and Supply transferred to an Intermediate Maintenance/Material Support Detachment (IMMSD) under NAF Atsugi ownership. The IMMSD later moved under HC-5 command, thus giving the squadron N41 and N42 departments. It occupies the old VRC-50 hangar, which has a memorial VRC-50 flagpole in front of it. N41 owns and operates three barracks and shares a warehouse with the Air Force. NAF Atsugi provides additional I-level support.

HC-5 will transition from H-46 to CH-60 aircraft in FY2000, becoming the first Pacific Fleet activity to use the new helicopter.

 

NAF ATSUGI

With the closures of NAS Cubi Point and NAS Agana, NAF Atsugi became the WESTPAC center of naval aviation and the only remaining carrier aviation base in the Pacific. It has supported Carrier Air Wing Five since 1973.

As the AMDO community was standing up in 1968, Naval Air Station Atsugi was standing down. In preparation for its downgrade to an air facility, squadrons VQ-1, VC-5, VRC-50 and HC-7 dispersed to Guam, Cubi Point and California. A permanent VQ-1 det remained.

When NAS Atsugi became NAF Atsugi in July 1971, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) assumed--and still holds--control of air operations. JMSDF and the U.S. Navy have used Atsugi jointly since then. One area of the base is for exclusive use by the U.S. Navy, one for joint use but administered by the Navy, and one for joint use administered by JMSDF.

Today, NAF Atsugi supports 36 tenant commands and base service organizations, in addition to CVW-5. It owns three of the six WESTPAC C-12 aircraft controlled by CFWP NALO. Active duty and civilian personnel and dependents number approximately 8100. New facilities built under the Japan Facility Improvement Program (JFIP) within the past ten years include the family service center, gym with indoor pool, medical facility, commissary, fuel farm, air operations building, aircraft hangars and family and bachelor housing units.

HSL-51 was established at Atsugi on 3 October 1991. HSL commitments had previously been filled by dets from San Diego. AIMD Atsugi established full repair capability for the SH-60F that same year.

In addition to supporting HSL-51, AIMD Atsugi is the supporting AIMD for HC-5. It provides all WESTPAC Navy H-46 support and T58-GE-402 first degree repair, and is currently developing repair capability plans for the CH-60 aircraft and T700-GE-401C engine.

 

USS KITTY HAWK AND CVW-5

USS Midway (CVA 41) and CVW-5 became the first carrier/airwing team permanently forward deployed overseas upon arrival at Yokosuka, Japan, in September 1973. The airwing is unique in that it stays formed as a permanent unit and has no local support from parent type wings.

When CVW-5 arrived at Atsugi, the local community quickly reached its limit of tolerance for the noise created by carrier landing practice. Community opposition resulted in a 1973 agreement to move CVW-5 FCLP to Iwo Jima, where it is still conducted. The Japanese government provides funding and C-130 transportation to move people and equipment between Iwo Jima and Atsugi.

USS Midway remained the forward deployed carrier until USS Independence (CV 62) arrived in September 1991. USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) replaced the Indy in August 1998--and also took its "Don't tread on me" banner as the oldest ship in the Navy.

CVW-5's squadrons are VFA-192, VFA-195, VFA-27, VS-21, VF-154, VAW-115, VAQ-136, HS-14 and VRC-30 Det 5. VAW-115 is the only original member. VQ-5 Det 5 completed its last cruise in November 1998.

Although CVW-5 lives and operates at Atsugi, its I-level support comes from the ship, not from the AIMD located across the street. While in port, the carrier moves most of its engine, weapons and paraloft functions to Atsugi. AIMD Atsugi, which is a helicopter I-level, provides generic support. Everything else goes to Yokosuka to be repaired aboard ship. A forward deployed AIMD supports its airwing whether or not embarked; it never gets a breathing spell.

 

NAF MISAWA

COMFAIRWESTPAC Det Misawa was established in July 1972 to operate a Navy airfield on a section of Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. The det grew in size and scope to meet an increasing tempo of operations. Patrol squadron dets started operating there in 1973 and initial elements for an I-level maintenance facility began providing Navy aircraft maintenance support. The first full patrol squadron arrived in August 1975 for a regular deployment.

NAF Misawa was commissioned 1 October 1975 and the COMFAIR det disestablished. In October 1995 a new AIMD replaced the mobile van complex that operated out of an old hangar. (MMF-C augmented AIMD until 1997 when it moved to MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, to the joint I-level facility there.) Misawa's new indoor T56-A-14 test cell opened in April 1998.

Today, Misawa's fourteen tenant commands include a regularly deployed VP squadron, a VPU detachment and VQ-1 Det Misawa. VQ-5 Det 5 recently shut down. Active duty and civilian personnel and dependents number approximately 1700. NAF Misawa owns and operates one C-12 aircraft.

 

NSF DIEGO GARCIA

Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia was established 1 October 1977, after six years as a Navy communications station. Known as the "Footprint of Freedom," it plays a primary role in support of U.S. military units operating in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.

Diego Garcia is a British Indian Ocean Territory. The island's only occupants are NSF personnel and tenants. Most of the approximately 3500 people are third country nationals working under the large base operating support (BOS) contract. In addition to a regularly deployed VP squadron, major activities include a Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station, maritime prepositioning ships anchored in the lagoon, Military Sealift Command, and COMPSRON TWO (which controls the MSC ships). The Air Force and Army also maintain support elements on the island.

AIMD Diego Garcia has full P-3C repair capability, with the exception of T56 engine support. A recently approved $8.4 MILCON for a new AIMD is scheduled for completion in April 2001. The present dispersed AIMD facility has its administrative offices and paraloft in refurbished Butler huts, the general maintenance spaces in an old VP hangar, and the avionics shops in forty aging mobile maintenance vans. The new facility will bring all functions under one roof, except for the Support Equipment Division managed under the BOS contract.

NSF Diego Garcia supports contingency operations in the Arabian Gulf. Its VP squadron maintains permanent dets in Bahrain and Masirah, Oman. Air Force B-52s arrive in force whenever tempers flare in that part of the world.

 

FIRST MARINE AIRCRAFT WING

Okinawa is home to the First Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), located at Camp Foster. First MAW is an element of III Marine Expeditionary Force and has two subordinate commands in WESTPAC, MAG-12 and MAG-36.

MAG-12, located on mainland Japan at MCAS Iwakuni, is comprised of permanent and deployed AV-8B, F/A-18 and EA-6B squadrons, totaling about 40 aircraft. MAG-36, located on Okinawa at MCAS Futenma, is comprised of permanent and deployed CH-46, CH-53E, AH-1W, UH-1N, and KC-130 squadrons, totaling about 52 aircraft.

MALS-12 and MALS-36, the logistical support elements of the MAGs, also produce Navy engines and provide other Navy support. MALS-12 assists USS Kitty Hawk with F/A-18 and EA-6B component repair. MALS-36 maintains the SE/WSE for P-3 aircraft operating from Kadena Air Base. Marine Wing Liaison Kadena (MWLK) handled this function since the closure of NAF Kadena, until 1998 when MALS-36 assumed responsibility. Its remote work center, Support Equipment Division (SED), repairs yellow gear owned by MALS-12 and NAF Misawa.

 

 

COMMANDER FLEET ACTIVITIES, OKINAWA

When Okinawa returned to Japanese control in 1972, U.S. Naval Facility Naha and Commander Fleet Activities Ryukyus combined on 15 May to become Commander Fleet Activities, Okinawa (CFAO). The command moved to Kadena Air Base on 7 May 1975 and became CFAO/NAF Kadena.

In 1992 a BRAC-type decision removed the NAF Kadena designation, closed the AIMD and reduced operational manpower. CFAO today operates two C-12 aircraft, maintains the Navy ramp at Kadena AB and performs airfield hosting duties. It supports 25 tenant commands throughout Okinawa, including Misawa's VP detachment at Kadena, the Naval Hospital at Camp Lester and the Seabees at Camp Shields. CFAO's facilities and piers at White Beach support Seventh Fleet operations and serve as home to Commander, Amphibious Group One.

 

USS BELLEAU WOOD AND 31ST MARINE EXPEDITIONARY UNIT (MEU)

Commander Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan, with approximately 6100 personnel, is home to the four ships of COMPHIBRON Eleven, the only permanently forward deployed amphibious squadron in the Navy (part of COMPHIBGRU One at White Beach, Okinawa).

USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) arrived in late 1992. When the ship left San Diego in August 1992, it stopped in Hawaii during its transit to provide disaster relief after a hurricane. It also conducted the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Naval Station Subic Bay and NAS Cubi Point.

The 31st MEU deploys with the USS Belleau Wood amphibious ready group. Its Air Combat Element (ACE) is built from permanent 1st MAW assets and deployed 3rd MAW assets: HMM (CH-46 Sea Knight), HMH (CH-53E Sea Stallion), HMLA (AH-1W Cobra & UH-1N Huey), VMA (AV-8B Harrier) and VMGR (KC-130 Hercules). The KC-130s provide on-call logistic support.

WESTPAC AIRCRAFT DEPOT LEVEL REPAIR

Naval Air Pacific Repair Activity (NAPRA) at NAF Atsugi manages and directs the Navy's forward deployed aircraft depot level repair program. Originally a COMFAIRWESTPAC department called Fleet Air Western Pacific Rework Activity (FAWPRA), NAPRA became an independent command under NAVAIRSYSCOM in 1991. In addition to a headquarters staff, NAPRA operates the Support Equipment Rework Facility (SERF) at Atsugi and permanent detachments in Italy and Okinawa. It supports 27 T/M/S aircraft.

NAPRA coordinates contract depot level performed at Japan Aircraft Company (H-46, H-1, P-3, H-60) in Atsugi, Singapore Technologies Aerospace Engineering (C-130) in Singapore, Korean Airlines (H-53) in Kimhae, Korea, and Gruppo Agusta (H-53) in Brindisi, Italy. These and other contractors in Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Australia provide component repair under NAPRA management.

NAPRA Det Okinawa, formerly NAPRA Det Guam, moved to MCAS Futenma when NAS Agana closed. Before that, it was NAPRA Det Cubi Point. Now, Futenma is on the chopping block. The command known as NERRA Naples became NAPRA Det Naples in 1997. These two detachments perform over 500 in-service repairs annually. They deploy depot field maintenance teams aboard carrier battle groups in WESTPAC, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf.

 

CONCLUSION

Although the WESTPAC naval aviation infrastructure is considerably smaller than in the past, the geographic area and the mission challenges remain unchanged. COMFAIRWESTPAC and CG FIRST MAW support all CINCPACFLT units deployed to the Fifth and Seventh Fleets--from Japan west to Bahrain and east to Guam and sometimes Hawaii.