YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Wright, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force, discussed regional concerns, from the realignment of U.S. military forces to the North Korean threat, during a roundtable discussion at his headquarters building Friday afternoon.

For months, as Washington and Tokyo have negotiated on troop realignments in the region, local media outlets have speculated about everything from a reduction in U.S. Marines on Okinawa to the movement of the U.S. Army’s I Corps from Fort Lewis, Wash., to Camp Zama, Japan.

“There are multiple opportunities to improve the strength of the alliance within the realignment,” Wright said. “My objective … is to ensure that the operational credibility, the operational capability and the deterrent credibility of the alliance remains intact as we work very hard to address specific realignment opportunities.”

Working with Japan

Wright released few specifics but stressed that a top priority would be to build on “joint, bilateral interoperability,” meaning all branches of the U.S. services working with the Japan Self-Defense Forces with “U.S. Forces Japan trying to help that along.”

Wright stressed that rapid dissemination of information — “information superiority” — is one of his first objectives.

“I would tell you right up front that my focus [is] on improved information sharing and command and control,” he said.

Futenma relocation

Wright also said USFJ faces very important logistical and operational considerations with realignment planning.

Regarding the issue of relocating Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Okinawa’s crowded Ginowan district, Wright said it’s important that USJF “retain the capability of Futenma.”

Okinawans long have campaigned for reducing the “footprint” of the U.S. military bases covering a fifth of the island. In 1996, the bilateral Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) adopted a plan to close some bases and consolidate others, reducing land they occupy by 21 percent. Part of that plan included closing Futenma within seven years if an alternate site could be found. After years of political wrangling, a site was chosen in waters off Okinawa’s northeast coast at Henoko, next to Camp Schwab.

“We need to keep working on addressing the impact of Futenma (on the local people) while maintaining the … very important operational capability of Futenma,” Wright said.

“It’s a difficult challenge but … there’s no doubt working closely with the Okinawan government and the Okinawan people we can get to the right answer.”

I Corps move

Wright addressed speculation that the Army’s I Corps is moving here.

“We’re going down a path to look very hard at the relocation of I Corps to (Camp) Zama but I think it’s pretty well known that we cannot increase the footprint here or the size of U.S. Forces in total,” in Japan, Wright said.

“So we’ve got some work to do, with the government of Japan, to define the best way ahead for I Corps and the role and mission for I Corps once they are here.”

North Korea concerns

As the senior U.S. military commander in the region, Wright said he also is worried about North Korea.

North Korea’s military capabilities are “a concern to me as a professional military member and a senior military leader in this region. I think we have to watch North Korea very, very closely.”

Wright said North Korea is another reason the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance is so important.

“I would reiterate that there’s huge value in this alliance for America and certainly for Japan. Stability in this part of the world is important not just to this region … but is important to the world,” he said.

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