US asks Japan to ban personal drone flights over American bases
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 27, 2017
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The U.S. military has asked the Japanese government to stop people from buzzing its military bases with remote-controlled aircraft that may pose safety and security risks.
Adm. Harry Harris, head of U.S Pacific Command, asked for action on the drone flights during a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in November, the Asahi newspaper reported Wednesday.
Small, remotely piloted aircraft that have been operated by individuals over Camp Schwab — a Marine Corps facility on Okinawa — pose a security and safety hazard, said Air Force Col. John Hutcheson, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman.
“I wouldn’t say it’s happening every day but it’s frequent enough to be a significant concern,” he said. “Oftentimes we can see the people flying [drones] but they are off the grounds of the installation.”
Harris told Japanese officials that there is a risk of a drone colliding with a military aircraft, Asahi reported.
There was an incident where a U.S. military helicopter had to make a sharp turn to avoid hitting a drone, the newspaper reported.
The small aircraft don’t appear to be a significant issue at other U.S. installations in Japan; however, there are rules for operating them on base. At Yokota — USFJ’s headquarters in western Tokyo — battery-powered toy drones are allowed at sports fields on the west side while larger recreational drones can be flown from an eastside taxiway.
After a drone crashed onto the roof of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s residence in April 2015, Japan banned them from flying over airports, densely populated areas and above 492 feet without permission. Another law bans drone flights over important facilities such as the National Diet building, Imperial Palace, nuclear power plants and embassies.
However, those rules don’t apply to U.S. military facilities. Officials are worried that terrorists, who have used drones in attacks in Iraq, might use one to strike an American base, Asahi reported.
Following Harris’ request, the Japanese government is looking at revising its laws to cover U.S. bases, the report added.
“We have been working with the Ministry of Defense on solutions to this problem,” Hutcheson said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.