Future of MCAS Futenma debated on several fronts
April 17, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — U.S. and Japanese officials are spending a lot of time these days trying to come up with a solution for closing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and relocating its Marine air units elsewhere on Okinawa.
Since 1996 Japan has been trying to comply with the recommendation of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa, or SACO, to close the facility as part of a plan to return 21 percent of the property on Okinawa used by the U.S. military.
The government in Tokyo decided years ago to build a new Marine air base — also to be used by civilian aircraft — at Henoko in northeast Okinawa, but that project has stalled.
So, during ongoing talks between the two governments now taking place on realigning U.S. bases in Japan, some old proposals for moving MCAS Futenma are being re-examined — including moving the Marines to Kadena Air Base.
But that’s not a very tenable solution, U.S. and Japanese officials say.
“It is true that we did consider the Kadena option back in the mid-1990s when the SACO talks were underway,” said U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Col. Victor Warzinski in a response to a Stars and Stripes query. “I am given to understand that the idea of moving everything to Kadena was ruled out as impractical and undesirable for a number of reasons, including operational considerations, contingency requirements, land use issues and local community concerns.”
“Any number of people will float any number of ideas and opinions, for any number of reasons,” he said. “It is still the official position of both governments that we are committed to seeing the SACO process completed in a timely manner and that includes the construction of a replacement facility near Camp Schwab, off Henoko,” he said.
Yoshinori Ohno, director general of the Japan Defense Agency, told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday that “some difficulties remain” between the two sides regarding realignment issues.
Commenting on recent “senior-level” meetings in Hawaii, Ohno said there seemed to be “strained air” between the two sides.
Eighteenth Wing spokesman Maj. Michael Paoli said there is limited space for aircraft and personnel on Kadena Air Base.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t consolidate, reduce or relocate people and assets to achieve the most optimal force posture here at Kadena to support the U.S.-Japan mutual security treaty,” he said. “Senior decision makers are aware of this, and they’re also aware that local communities oppose any real or perceived mission growth here at Kadena.”
In a related matter, a subcommittee of the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee met on Camp Foster on Friday to review helicopter flight paths at MCAS Futenma.
The team was formed earlier this month as part of public concern for safety in the wake of an Aug. 13 crash of a Marine helicopter operating out of the base.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.