US Begins work in Timor to Rehabilitate Airfield & Reinvigorate Local Air Capabilities

Engineers from the U.S and Timorese militaries began to restore Timor Leste’s longest airfield on 12 January. Baucau airfield is located around 100 kilometres East of Timor’s Capital Dili. Historically it was used by the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) during the country’s occupation of the territory. It was also a key logistics hub for various U.N missions based in the country until 2012.

Participants of the Exercise Hari’i Hamutuk attend the 2021 Closing Ceremony at Metinaro Military Base, Timor-Leste. Exercise Hari’i Hamutuk includes personnel from Japan, the United States, Australia, Timor Leste and New Zealand. (Commonwealth of Australia)

The U.S and Timor Leste signed two separate memorandums of understanding (MOU) covering the development of the site and Timor’s indigenous aerial capability in June 2021. Timor first approached the U.S about restoring the airport in 2018. Under the terms of the MOUs, the U.S is funding the installation of a security fence, lights and a warehouse at the airfield to the tune of $10 million USD. The U.S is also providing relevant emergency vehicles and a camera-armed aircraft for the country’s armed forces, the Timor-Leste Defense Force (F-FDTL). 

U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste Kevin Blackstone and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Planning and Territory Jose Maria dos Reis signed two important Memoranda of Understanding on June 28, 2021 at the Office of the Ministry of Planning and Territory (MPO), launching the joint rehabilitation of Baucau Airfield, and intent to engage in good faith discussions regarding potential U.S. Government support for the civil aviation sector in Timor-Leste.

Both governments claim the project will have wide-ranging economic and security benefits when it’s completed in August 2022. According to remarks made by then U.S Ambassador to Timor-Leste, Kevin Blackstone in June 2021: 

“We are proud to support the development of the F-FDTL’s Air Component, which will aid in the protection of Timor-Leste’s sovereignty and economic rights. In addition to national security, the Baucau Airfield project creates opportunities for economic development, including tourism, throughout the Eastern part of the country.”  

As part of the project, the U.S is supplying a single Cessna 206 aircraft to the F-FDTL’s nascent Air Component. The aircraft, which is equipped with a high-powered camera, will be used by the F-FDTL for surveillance and maritime security operations in the Timor Sea. It’s scheduled to arrive from the U.S later this year and will represent a massive growth in capabilities for the F-FDTL which currently operates a sole Cessna 172.