December 30, 2020

Naval Bases from Space - Hawaii

It seems time once again to look at naval bases through the eyes of Google Maps. We've previously looked at both the Hampton Roads area and San Diego, and given that we're in the depths of winter, it seems appropriate to go somewhere warm, so it's time for our satellite eyes to journey across the Pacific to Hawaii. The US military has extensive facilities here, including the headquarters of Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) and the Pacific Fleet. As usual, I've prepared a map so that you can follow along.1

Of course, our first stop is Pearl Harbor, best known as the site of the Japanese attack that brought the US into WWII. In the center of Pearl Harbor (which technically refers to a body of water northwest of Honolulu) is Ford Island. Until 1999, it was home to a naval air station/landing facility, although much of the island has been turned over to other uses today. The southeastern side of the island was "Battleship Row", and Arizona remains there today. Two berths down, approximately where Maryland and Oklahoma were during the attack, is Missouri, now a museum. On the other side of the island is Utah, also never salvaged. On the southern tip of the island, in some of the former hangars, is the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Some of the aircraft are outside, and we can identify them. The helicopters going right to left are an H-34, an H-3 Sea King, an H-46 Sea Knight, an H-53, an H-60, a UH-1, an AH-1, and something I can't identify. The largest of the fixed-wing planes is an A-3 Skywarrior, and near it are an F-86, an F-104 and a MiG-21. There's also an F-5 Tiger to the northwest.

If we follow the bridge from Ford Island to the mainland, we find the submarine Bowfin and a memorial park nearby, with a number of weapons. A Regulus can be seen just southeast of the submarine. South of the memorial park is Naval Station Pearl Harbor, headquarters of the Pacific Fleet and home to a squadron of destroyers and over a dozen submarines. The submarines look to operate out of the north side of the base, with four SSNs tied up at piers around Magazine Loch. Unfortunately, it's not really feasible to tell what type, as the subs based out of Pearl are a mix of Los Angeles and Virginia class boats.

On the south side of the piers are the destroyers. Going from east to west, we have a three Burkes (a singleton and a pair) tied up along the wharves, parallel to the shoreline. Four more Burkes and a Tico are at the piers (jutting out from the shoreline) which appear to be part of the shipyard, as most of the ships have obvious signs of work being done, such as plastic sheeting to protect work from the weather. Further along the coast, opposite the south end of Ford Island, are a pair of submarines tied up alongside, and another pair in drydock.

Technically, Pearl Harbor is part of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham, having merged with Hickham Air Force Base, directly to the south, in 2010. Hickham AFB actually shares runways with Honolulu International Airport, and its ramps show a wide variety of aircraft. The westernmost is primarily occupied by KC-135 tankers, but has a C-17 airlifter and a C-40 transport (military version of the 737) at the north end, all three types actually based at Hickham. None of the F-22s that make up the rest of the base's aircraft are visible, but three 3 F/A-18s and an F-15 at the south end of the west ramp, along with what looks to be an A-7 Corsair. The Corsair is probably some piece of training equipment, as the US military has not used them since the 90s. The central ramp has 3 C-17s on the west side, a C-130J (identifiable by the propellers) and, very unusually, a trio of B-2s. South of the B-2s is a KC-135 taxiing for the runways, while east of that are two more C-17s, and a pair of larger C-5s. Directly west of the runways is the former Fort Kamehameha, a set of Taft-era batteries intended to protect Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, not much is visible. Southwest of the forts is what I believe to be the F-22 ramp, although all of the aircraft are in shelters to protect their stealth coatings.

Better-preserved coastal defenses are visible at Battery Randolph and Battery Harlow near Diamond Head in Waikiki. Battery Randolph, which originally housed 14" guns, is now home to the Army Museum of Hawaii, while Battery Harlow is rather older and once was home to 8 12" mortars, the pits for which can still be clearly seen. Nor is that the extent of the military presence in Honolulu. There's the Army's Fort Shafter, headquarters of United States Army Pacific, and Tripler Army Medical Center, both on the north edge of the city. Just to the north of Tripler is Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility. This is a series of 20 tanks dug deep underground, each with a capacity of 12.5 million gallons, which has provided the bulk of fuel storage to the Pacific Fleet since it opened in 1943.2 Northwest of Red Hills is Camp HM Smith, home to the commander of INDOPACOM, as well as Fleet Marine Force Pacific. And there's the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, located in the Punchbowl crater, where many of the dead from the Pacific War were interred after being moved from the islands where they fell.

But while that wraps us up for Honolulu, we're hardly done even with the island of Oahu. The one service that hasn't gotten into the action so far is the Marine Corps, who have the imaginatively-named Marine Corps Base Hawaii northeastern of Honolulu. There are a few features of note here. First, at the northeastern tip of the base are the remains of Battery Pennsylvania, constructed using one of the 14" turrets removed from Arizona after she was sunk. Second, there's MCAS Kaneohe Bay, on the western side of the base. All of the fixed-wing aircraft visible are actually Navy P-3 Orions, relocated to Kaneohe Bay after NAS Barbers Point, west of Pearl Harbor, was turned over to civilian use in 1999 as Kalaeloa Airport. South of the runway at Kaneohe is the helicopter ramp, where the Marines keep their birds. Most of the aircraft visible are UH-1Ys or AH-1s of various types. The UH-1Ys have four-bladed main rotors and wide fuselages, while most of the AH-1s are early models with two-blade rotors. A few AH-1Zs with four-bladed rotors are on the northeast ramp, visible by their slim fuselages and stub wings. The big helicopters with seven-bladed rotors are MH-53Es. Southwest of MCB Hawaii is Bellows Air Force Station, which the Marines use for amphibious training and everyone else uses for recreation.

Elsewhere on Oahu are important elements of the US military's communications infrastructure. On the west side of the island is the Lualualei VLF transmitter, a pair of 1500' towers for transmitting very low frequency radio signals, which can be picked up by submarines while underwater. Further inland is the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Pacific, the hub for the Navy's communications throughout the Pacific region. It also plays host to the NSA's Hawaii Cryptologic Center. Nearby are Wheeler Army Airfield, where you can see a variety of helicopters, including Black Hawks, twin-rotor Chinooks and slim Apaches, as well as Schofield Barracks, home of the 25th Infantry Division. Lastly, the far eastern side of the island is home to Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, a Space Force installation charged with talking to the US military's various satellites.

A few of the other Hawaiian islands house military facilities, too. The largest is the Pohakuloa Training Area on the island of Hawaii (also known as the Big Island). This is used for maneuver training by forces from Schofield Barracks and MCB Hawaii, who are otherwise quite constrained, and includes Bradshaw Army Airfield, which isn't very exciting to look at from space. On the western coast of Kauai, there's the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, where most of the nation's anti-ballistic missile tests are conducted. Even if weapons are launched from elsewhere, the nerve center that ties it all together is here. Lastly, there's the island of Kahoʻolawe. Short of fresh water, it was taken over by the US military during WWII, and used primarily as a bombing range until 1990, when it was returned to the state of Hawaii. The island is partially notable for being the site of Operation Sailor Hat, and while the crater is visible in satellite imagery, it is obscured by clouds in the images current at the time of writing.

1 Google Earth gives a date of 12/11/15 for the imagery in the area immediately around Pearl Harbor, where the ships and planes I talk about are, if they should happen to update and you want to see this in its original form. It's still present in January of 2022.

2 Construction began before the outbreak of war, not in response to panic over the potential destruction of the fuel tanks during the Pearl Harbor attack. Which was massively overblown, anyway, but that's a story for another day.


  1. December 30, 2020Alexander said...

    I'm guessing that mystery helicopter is a Kiowa.

  2. December 30, 2020Alexander said...

    And the A3 would be a Skywarrior (the Skyraider was the A1) though I couldn't tell one from a B66 myself.

  3. December 30, 2020bean said...

    The Skywarrior/Skyraider was a typo, which I've now fixed. I'm not sure that it's not a B-66 (which is essentially the same plane) but the collection looks navy-biased, so I'm playing the odds.

  4. December 30, 2020Anonymous said...

    And the A3 would be a Skywarrior (the Skyraider was the A1) though I couldn't tell one from a B66 myself.

    Look at the paint on the side.


  5. December 30, 2020bean said...

    Well, obviously. The only other way to do it that I know of is to look for ejection seats, and those are sort of hard to spot in satellite imagery.

  6. January 01, 2021Blackshoe said...

    Aw, you didn't mark the spot where PRL ran aground. That's an important landmark/sarc

  7. January 01, 2021bean said...

    Yeah, and I didn't mark Thimble Shoal in the Hampton Roads post either.

Comments from SlateStarCodex:

Leave a comment

All comments are reviewed before being displayed.

Name (required):

E-mail (required, will not be published):


You can use Markdown in comments!

Enter value: Captcha