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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan is looking into cutting the time it will take to prepare a new airfield on Camp Schwab to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

During a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, Defense Agency Director General Fumio Kyuma said there might be ways to slash three years off the current construction schedule for the new air facility, which is to be built on the Henoko Peninsula in northern Okinawa.

In May, the United States and Japan agreed to a broad plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan. Key to the plan is building an air facility consisting of two runways and support buildings on the lower part of Camp Schwab, extending onto landfill in Oura Bay. The facility, to replace MCAS Futenma in urban Ginowan, was to be completed by 2014.

However, Kyuma said that schedule could be shortened if an environmental assessment of the area can be cut from three years to two and if construction can be done in four years instead of the planned five. And another year could be saved if local municipalities and the prefecture have no objections to early construction of some facilities not requiring environmental assessments.

Kyuma did not name a target completion date, a Defense Agency spokesman said. But by making such cuts, the project conceivably could be completed by 2011.

If construction can be put on a fast track, it will place the date for closing MCAS Futenma to within one year of new Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima’s demand that the base cease operations within three years — by 2010.

Kyuma said Nakaima’s three-year deadline would be hard to reach because U.S. forces need to operate out of MCAS Futenma to carry out the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

“What is important now is to complete the replacement facility at the earliest possible date,” he said, emphasizing that “to complete a replacement facility, all of Okinawa needs to make an effort together with us.”

Kyuma noted how a small group of protesters effectively halted construction on a previously planned offshore airport to replace MCAS Futenma.

Also announced Tuesday, a Defense Agency spokesman said, was a planned mid-January meeting among Kyuma, Japan Foreign Minister Taro Aso, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates. It will be the first so-called “two-plus-two” meeting since the realignment agreement was signed May 1.


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