Japanese official: Consider moving Marines to Kadena
Stars and Stripes November 18, 2009
NAHA, Okinawa — Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada wrapped up his two-day visit to Okinawa on Monday promising to continue to look into alternatives to replacing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Okada said he will pursue the possibility of scrapping plans to build a new Marine airstrip on Camp Schwab and instead moving Marines to Kadena Air Base.
“I can say that we are now reviewing every possibility, including the Kadena plan,” he said during a news conference Monday in Naha.
In 2006 the U.S. and Japan agreed to close MCAS Futenma, in urban central Okinawa, and move its operations to a more remote location on the island’s northeast coast. But Japan’s new government that took office in September has questioned whether the Marine air operations should be moved elsewhere.
Without the new base, U.S. officials have stated, the entire realignment plan for Okinawa would disintegrate. Okada agrees.
“Everything started in order to remove the danger presently posed at the Marine air station at the earliest possible time,” he said Monday. “Scrapping the [2006 realignment] plan and starting from scratch is not an option. If the plan is scrapped, plans to move the 8,000 Marines and close military bases south of Kadena will also fall apart.”
On Sunday Okada viewed Camp Schwab and the village of Henoko, which hosts the base. He also viewed MCAS Futenma from a hill overlooking it and spoke with Okinawa leaders.
Okada acknowledged that moving the Marines to Kadena — with its two 12,000-foot runways making it the largest U.S. air base in East Asia — has been rejected by national and local officials in the past.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell earlier this month called the move operationally unworkable.
“You cannot consolidate the Air Force operations, the Marine Corps operations onto that facility and do all the things that we need to do to provide for the defense of Japan,” he said.
People who live near the base have long complained about aircraft noise and have successfully sued the Japanese government for damages.
However, Okada said that if the noise problem could be addressed, the move to Kadena would allow MCAS Futenma to be closed sooner than the planned 2014 date to complete the Camp Schwab project, which calls for two V-shaped runways to be built partly on reclaimed land in Oura Bay.
The Camp Schwab project is still in the environmental assessment stage.