PACAF commander says Kadena can’t take on Futenma operations
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Moving Marine aviation units on Okinawa to this sprawling air base, as recently suggested by several Japanese officials, is a bad idea, the commander of Pacific Air Forces said Wednesday.
Gen. Gary North said there are “several reasons” why Kadena should not be considered as an option to absorb Marine Corps Air Station Futenma operations. Moving the Marines would just move the problems of Futenma — noise and accidents — a bit farther north into another heavily developed area, he said.
“Since the mid- to late ’90s we have held this position that we don’t believe that it’s a good idea,” said North, who was wrapping up visits to air bases in Japan and South Korea. “Futenma, as you know, is about seven miles from Kadena Air Base and a movement of the aviation forces of the Marines from Futenma to Kadena effectively replicates the challenges of Futenma.”
Since 1996, the U.S. and Japan have been looking to close Futenma, located in the heart of Ginowan’s urban sprawl, and move Marine air units to a more rural location. After years of study and a failed plan to build a sea-based airport some two miles offshore, the two countries signed an agreement in May 2006 to build a new air facility on Camp Schwab, on the island’s northeast shore.
However, Japan’s new left-center government has called for a review of that project and is looking for alternate sites, including moving the Marines off Okinawa altogether.
North’s comments came on the heels of a meeting Tuesday in Honolulu between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada concerning Futenma.
Clinton reiterated that the Camp Schwab alternative is best for both countries.
“To ensure that our alliance is well positioned to adapt and respond to evolving challenges, we must bolster our diplomatic engagement and security arrangements,” Clinton told reporters following the 80-minute meeting Tuesday.
“We must do this while reducing the impact on local communities by American bases, particularly in Okinawa. Our two governments drew up the realignment roadmap with these dual goals in mind and we look to our Japanese allies to follow through on their commitments, including on Futenma.”
For his part, Okada stressed that the so-called “roadmap” is being reviewed and a decision will be made in May concerning the Futenma relocation project.