Sea-based Facility to House U.S. Marine Air Station
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
TOKYO, Dec. 4, 1996 U.S. defense officials recently agreed to move operations from Futenma U.S. Marine Corps Air Station to a sea-based facility to be built by the Japanese. The move is part of an agreement to return 21 percent of the land currently used by U.S. forces on Okinawa to Japan.
U.S. forces occupy about 58,000 acres on Okinawa. About 12,000 acres, including Futenma's 1,200 in the densely populated city of Ginowan, will be returned over the next five to seven years, U.S. officials said.
The agreement significantly reduces the burden on the Okinawans, while at the same time preserves the vital security mission U.S. forces perform, said U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry. He, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale, Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda and Japanese Defense Agency Director General Fumio Kyuma signed the final report of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa here Dec. 2.
For the past year, the committee worked to relocate U.S. facilities while maintaining operational capabilities, DoD officials said. About 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed on Okinawa. They are counted among the 100,000 U.S. troops deployed in the Asia-Pacific region.
U.S. bases on Okinawa are critical to U.S. security strategy for the region. U.S. troops help defend Japan and maintain freedom of the seas, officials said.
"The U.S.-Japan security alliance is the foundation of peace, security and stability in the Asian-Pacific region," Perry said. "No security relationship is more important, not just to Japan and the United States, but to all of the nations in this region, since it provides the foundation on which the truly remarkable economic growth has been based."
The U.S. security relationship with Japan remains solid and enduring, said Mondale. Okinawa was under U.S. control from 1945 through 1972. Mondale said work remains to be done, but more serious work has been done in the last year than in the previous 25. "I think Okinawans will see a big improvement in their lives as a result, and we've done this without reducing force readiness or capability."
About 1.2 million people live on the island, south of the Japanese mainland. Mondale said, along with turning over thousands of acres, the new agreement also takes into account Okinawans' concerns about aircraft and artillery noise, marching in the streets, licensing trucks and service members' auto insurance. "Both nations have really tried in an intensive way to become good neighbors," he said.
Okinawans protested the American military's presence following the rape of a young Okinawan schoolgirl by three U.S. service members in September 1995. The men were tried and found guilty by Japanese authorities. The incident focused attention on the Okinawans' many objections to U.S. forces in their communities.
Perry set up the Special Action Committee on Japan in November to recommend fundamental changes in the Okinawan basing.
The committee recommended a sea-based facility to replace Futenma because it can serve as a fixed facility while serving as a military base, and it can be removed when no longer needed, U.S. officials said. The base will be located off the east coast and is slated to be connected to land by a pier or causeway, according to the agreement.
Plans call for selecting one of three construction methods, floating modules upon pile-supported piers, a pontoon-type platform or a semi-submersible platform. The facility will be about 1,500 meters long and will support most of Futenma's flying operations. In selecting a final site, officials will consider fishing access, environmental compatibility and noise abatement, as well as operational requirements, U.S. officials said.
Futenma houses 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The base is a vital center for forward deployments in the region, DoD officials said. The move from Futenma will happen after adequate facilities are completed and operational, DoD officials said.
Other changes and land returns in the U.S.-Japan agreement include:
- Returning about 4,000 acres in the island's northern training area by the end of March 2003;
- Terminating troop hikes on public roads;
- Transferring KC-130 Hercules and AV-8 Harrier aircraft from Futenma to Iwakuni Air Base. Fourteen AV-8 aircraft have already been transferred to the United States.
- Relocating Navy aircraft operations at Kadena Air Base by the end of the year, and constructing noise reduction baffles at the north side of the base by March 1998;
- Limiting night flight training operations at Futenma as much as possible while maintaining operational readiness.
- Establishing new procedures for reporting accidents, joint visits to U.S. facilities, marking U.S. forces vehicles and requiring U.S. personnel to obtain supplemental auto insurance beginning in January 1997.