NAVAL AIR FACILITY MISAWA, Japan — A Navy detachment supporting electronic surveillance missions here since 1991 quietly is pulling up stakes and leaving northern Japan.

The Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One, or VQ-1, detachment is being dismantled, sending 36 military personnel and about 19 families to Whidbey Island, Wash., home of the detachment’s squadron, the VQ-1 “World Watchers,” a Commander, Naval Forces Japan official said Tuesday.

“They’re trying to improve the efficiency of their operations,” said Navy Cmdr. John Wallach. “With fewer and fewer flights out of Misawa, this detachment is just not needed anymore.”

The detachment supports temporary-duty aircrew conducting surveillance missions from Misawa aboard EP-3E Aries II aircraft in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

“They provide operation, maintenance and administrative support,” Wallach said, while the aircrews and planes are deployed to Misawa.

EP-3 flights from Misawa, however, are “pretty infrequent,” having decreased significantly since the detachment’s move from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, near Tokyo, to Misawa in 1991, Wallach said.

“A lot of those flights are coming out of Kadena now,” Wallach said, attributing the shift to “geography, world events … the places they need to go to gather intelligence.”

The EP-3E can detect and identify tactically significant electronic signals, according to the Navy. VQ-1 provides electronic reconnaissance from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the United States, according to a VQ-1 “World Watchers” fact sheet. One of the squadron’s EP-3E Aries II, flying from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, was involved in the March 31, 2001, midair collision with a Chinese F-8 fighter jet that resulted in the 24-member aircrew being detained 11 days in China.

Wallach said EP-3E missions still on occasion will originate from Misawa. Dissolving the detachment “doesn’t make Misawa a less-attractive option” for those flights, he said. The detachment’s functions will be absorbed by the VQ-1 squadron on Whidbey Island, allowing the aircrews and planes to “still go where they’re needed.”

The move doesn’t affect the deployments of Navy patrol squadrons, which rotate P-3 Orion sub-hunter aircraft and crews into Misawa every six months, officials said.

The Japanese government was notified in January that the VQ-1 detachment would be abolished, Wallach said. Some military personnel already have been relocated, but Wallach didn’t know how many remained at Misawa.

Misawa Mayor Shigeyoshi Suzuki expressed concern that the loss of military personnel from Misawa might leave more rental housing unoccupied, the Japanese newspaper Too Nippo reported last week.

Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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