The U.S. military began work to fix the runway at Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield, Okinawa prefecure, Japan, according to Defense Minister Minoru Kihara on July 9, 2024.

The U.S. military began work to fix the runway at Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield, Okinawa prefecure, Japan, according to Defense Minister Minoru Kihara on July 9, 2024. (Okinawa Prefecture)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. military has reportedly started preliminary work to repair an auxiliary airfield runway that figures in a dispute between the U.S. military and Okinawa prefecture over parachute training at Kadena Air Base.

The U.S. is procuring materials to repair the runway on Ie Shima, an island just off the northwest shore of Okinawa, and is “investigating geological features such as cavities under the runway,” Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said at a news conference Tuesday.

The U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force use the airfield on Ie Shima, a 9-square-mile island a few miles off the Motobu Peninsula, for training operations, including parachute drops.

Since December, the Air Force 18th Wing has conducted that training about once a month at the Ridout drop zone on Kadena Air Base over the prefecture’s objections. A training drop on Monday drew further protests from Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau visually confirmed parachute training that day at Kadena, Kihara said.

Ridout is an alternative to Ie Shima, due to exceptional conditions on the island, including “weather, winds, sea state, airfield conditions and other potential factors,” the wing said in an unsigned email in May.

Marine Corps Installations Pacific, which manages the Ie Shima airfield, would not confirm or deny repairs are underway at the runway, citing operational security, spokesman Capt. Brett Dornhege-Lazaroff told Stars and Stripes by phone and email Wednesday.

The Marines dropped 400 jumpers onto Ie Shima in April and 70 in May; no Marine drops took place in June, Dornhege-Lazaroff said by email Wednesday.

Kihara said U.S. authorities planned to quickly finish the repairs.

“We were told that they will quickly complete the construction plan considering the results of these investigations and will show it to us,” Kihara said. “We’d like to release detailed information, including construction schedule, after concluding bilateral arrangements.”

The Monday drops were the sixth since December and the first since April, a spokesman for the prefecture’s Military Base Affairs Division said by phone Wednesday. Some Japanese government officials may speak to the press only on condition of anonymity.

The 18th Wing at Kadena received emailed questions about Monday’s training from Stars and Stripes but had not responded by Wednesday afternoon.

“Relying solely on Ie Shima for jump training is insufficient for meeting our team’s requirements, which impacts our readiness to meet our treaty obligation to support the defense of Japan,” the 18th Wing stated in May.

The training Monday was an “exceptional circumstance,” and no damage to the local community or landings outside the base were reported, Kihara said.

“We have been told by the U.S. side that it is still difficult to land and fly big, fixed-wing aircraft at the runway in Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield,” Kihara said.

The prefecture on Tuesday protested with Manabu Miyagawa, Ministry of Foreign Affairs ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, and Okinawa Defense Bureau director Shinya Ito asking for a halt to parachute training at Kadena and to move that training out of the prefecture or the country.

“We think that this is not an exceptional circumstance,” Tamaki said in a post on the Base Affairs Division’s X account.

Tamaki in the post referred to a case of sexual assault of a minor pending in Okinawa courts against an Air Force member. The delayed release of information by the Okinawa Prefectural Police and Naha Public Prosecutors Office in June drew official protests from the prefecture.

“They [the U.S. Air Force] carried out this parachute training under this situation,” Tamaki wrote. “I think there is a lack of understanding regarding the sentiments of the prefecture’s citizens.”

author picture
Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
Brian McElhiney is a reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Okinawa, Japan. He has worked as a music reporter and editor for publications in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Oregon. One of his earliest journalistic inspirations came from reading Stars and Stripes as a kid growing up in Okinawa.

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