Twentieth-century innovations like pilot training and mechanized-infantry maneuvers led to the vast expansion of military training bases, and big, remote bombing ranges in the West became testing grounds for the Bomb itself. After World War II, the vast reaches of the Pacific soon became the only place to test the really big bombs; during the years of atmospheric testing the Pacific Proving Ground was blasted with more than 100 megatons of nuclear fire.
In one of his last official acts as president, George W. Bush created the Marianas Trench National Monument — the largest national park in American history. This unexpected and welcome parting gift to the nation pulled those far-off seas deeper into America’s orbit. Within the 200-nautical mile EEZ of the United States, the waters around Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands are home to volcanic vents with their undersea mineral deposits, abundant sea life and the deepest place on Earth.
And there, quietly but publicly, the United States has begun developing the next great weapons range for the next great wave of weapons.
The U.S. Navy recently set up a Website to seek public input for the Environmental Impact Statement of the Marianas Islands Training and Test Range. A large-scale map lays out the scope of the new test range’s “study area,” and it’s huge. The Battle of the Phillippine Sea — one of the largest naval engagements in history involving thousands of aircraft and hundreds of ships — was fought comfortably within the MITT study area.
Although such a giant arena will no doubt be useful for all kinds of conventional training, not to mention “emerging and future training and testing requirements including those associated with new platforms” — *cough* *cough* robots — “and weapons systems within the MITT Study Area, starting in 2015.” That date, incidentally, will be the centennial of Capt. “Pete” Ellis’s successful amphibious landing of a naval gun across the reefs of Guam, a small event that foretold the Navy’s Pacific future.