F-15s flying again at Kadena; Okinawa local officials aren't happy about it
Aircraft from the 12th Fighter Squadron once again took to the skies over Okinawa despite protests from local officials to halt all flights over Kadena Town.
The protests follow an incident Monday in which two F-15s from the 12th Fighter Squadron bumped each other while flying in a military training area approximately 125 miles off Okinawa’s southern coast. The left wing of one aircraft was damaged and the vertical stabilizers on the other were torn up. Both aircraft were able to return safely to Kadena Air Base, landing with no injuries to the pilots.
Kadena Town assembly members met with U.S. officials Wednesday and submitted a resolution calling for all flights and exercises over the town to be suspended immediately. The resolution also called for suspension of all flights arriving at Kadena Air Base from other bases.
The F-15s from the 12th Fighter Squadron are deployed to Okinawa from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. They are scheduled to return to their home base in January.
“It is totally unacceptable that a serious accident like this occurred again, which belittles the lives of residents living near the base,” the protest resolution states. The resolution was addressed to commanders of 18th Wing, U.S. Forces Japan and Okinawa Area Coordinator, as well as the U.S. ambassador and U.S. consul in Okinawa.
The resolution, passed before the meeting Wednesday, also called for withdrawing all F-15 squadrons and suspending all F-15 flights and exercises until the cause of the incident is identified. The assembly wants the cause to be determined quickly and asked that results of the investigation into the mishap be released to Kadena Town residents. The assembly also called for the Air Force to announce and implement specific measures to prevent another such incident and to reduce the amount of airspace the U.S. military uses over Okinawa.
In a release Wednesday morning announcing that the squadron would resume flying, the 18th Wing commander, Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, again apologized to the local community.
“Air Force leadership takes this event very seriously,” Jouas stated in the release. “We are working closely with local leaders to allay their concerns. Every effort is being made to make aircraft operations at Kadena as safe as possible to help reduce the anxiety of the Okinawan people.”
A safety investigation board has been appointed to determine the cause of the accident, according to the release, which also stated there is no indication that either aircraft involved suffered a mechanical malfunction, and that the 12th Fighter Squadron “extensively reviewed flight and safety procedures” during its subsequent stand-down.
Col. H. Brent Baker, 18th Mission Support Group commander, stated in the release that the investigation board will determine the cause of the incident and that the “lessons learned” will be distributed Air Force-wide to prevent a similar occurrence.
Baker added that the pilots took every precaution to ensure the safety of local Okinawans, including using an over-water approach to avoid populated areas while landing and slowing to landing speeds early to ensure a safe landing could be accomplished.
The Air Force has declined to disclose the names of the pilots involved in the incident.
The letter submitted to the base by the Kadena Town assembly criticized the implication that the landings were totally safe.
“Flights by damaged aircraft have the danger of inflicting disaster involving residential areas even with the slightest mistake,” the letter stated. “It is hard to measure the level of concern and fear it has given to the town citizens and Okinawa citizens, and it reveals the (U.S. military’s) naivete of how serious the incident was.”
The chairman of the Kadena Town assembly’s committee on U.S. military affairs, Kyoki Nakagawa, said the incident is regrettable, as it could have led to an accident. Nakagawa and six other assembly members met with 18th Wing officials, the deputy consul general of the U.S. Consulate on Okinawa, and Japanese officials Wednesday to protest the incident.
“We said that we will hold the commander responsible if anything more were to happen,” Nakagawa said.
He noted that military officials showed the group the jets that clipped one another, which is the first time such a response was taken after an incident. Even though he is pleased with that unprecedented step from Kadena officials, Nakagawa said he feels the local community’s concerns are going unnoticed.
“I feel indignation that the wills of (Kadena) Town and Okinawa citizens have been ignored,” said Nakagawa of the resumption of flights. Although the jets that made contact were from Alaska, “for Kadena and Okinawa citizens, there are no differences but the fact that they are U.S. military jets,” Nakagawa said.