In 2020, Palau encouraged the US to build a military base on the island to deter China, which the Pacific nation accused of “ongoing destabilizing activities.”
The construction of the US Air Force’s advanced Tactical Mobile Over-the-Horizon Radar (TACMOR), which is underway on the Pacific island of Palau, reflects Washington’s “growing vigilance” in the Pacific, and could be critical for monitoring “Chinese activities”, according to the American press.
The report cited FY2023 Air Force budget documents as saying that “development, test and evaluation, and acquisition of the system and associated components will provide warfighters with the capability to close gaps in surveillance coverage in key regions of the Pacific area of interest to the United States and our Allies.”
According to the outlet, the $17 billion project underscores the Pentagon’s push to provide “a persistent US military presence in the Indo-Pacific as of late.”
“Palau itself is becoming especially strategic as the United States focuses on preparing for a potential high-end future conflict in the area against Chinese forces, but also on addressing the threats posed by the missile arsenals of adversaries like North Korea,” the outlet added.
In September 2020, the government of Palau reportedly told then-US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper that the Pacific archipelago nation is completely open to the Pentagon’s construction of a military base on the island. Palau, which is one of a few countries that do not have armed forces, has an agreement with the US, which obliges Washington to defend the island.
Over-the-Horizon (OTH) radars are capable of detecting targets located beyond the range limit of ordinary radars. They operate in the HF frequency range from 5 to 30 MHz and can spot targets typically hundreds to thousands of kilometers away.
These radars use powerful radio signals which are transmitted with the help of a large antenna or an array of them. Those signals get reflected by the ionosphere to reach the target.
OTH radars are mainly used as early warning and threat detection systems. They are also used for navigation and surveillance in commercial and military ships.
The radars help Washington expand its regional clout as Washington and Beijing remain at odds over a slew of issues, including those related to Taiwan, seen by China as an essential part of the mainland. Beijing is frustrated over Washington’s growing arms sales to Taipei as well as US President Joe Biden’s pledges to “defend” the island in the event of an “invasion” by Beijing. Tensions were further escalated after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, a trip that was followed by Beijing launching large-scale military drills near the island in a retaliation move.
Adding fuel to the fire, the US has boosted deployments of military assets to the Asia-Pacific region, including so-called “freedom of navigation” missions through the South China Sea, where Beijing claims territories including Taiwan.