During the Cold War era, the United States was keen on establishing a military base in the Indian Ocean. Because of Diego Garcia’s proximity to India, a potential ally of the Soviet Union, the United States saw the island as a strategically important one. U.S. military activities in Diego Garcia have caused friction between India and U.S. in the past.
During the Cold War era, various political parties in India repeatedly demanded that the U.S. dismantle the military base as they saw U.S. naval presence in Diego Garcia as a potential threat to India’s dominance of the Indian Ocean.
However, after the end of the Cold War, relations between India and U.S. have improved dramatically. Diego Garcia was the site of several naval exercises between the U.S. and Indian Navy held between 2001 and 2004.
Diego Garcia is also located relatively close to the Middle East, and experienced rapid military build-ups during the beginnings of the Iranian revolution and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Diego Garcia has several current missions. U.S. Air Force bombers and AWACS surveillance planes operate from the 12,000 foot (3,650 m) runway, and the USAF Space Command has built a satellite tracking station and communications facility.
The atoll also shelters the 14 ships of Marine Pre-positioning Squadron Two. These ships carry the equipment and supplies to support a major armed force with light tanks, armored personnel carriers, munitions, fuel, spare parts and even a mobile field hospital. This equipment showed its necessity during the Persian Gulf War, when the Squadron quickly delivered its equipment to Saudi Arabia. There, soldiers flown on air transports from U.S. and European bases quickly unloaded and deployed the pre-positioned material.
Google Earth images shows parked B-1 Lancers, B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotankers on the tarmac of Diego Gracia airport. These B-1s were used during the Invasion of Afghanistan. The island was used by the United States during Iranian revolution, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.