Support our mission

YOMITAN, Okinawa — Technical problems are delaying the long-awaited reversion of the Sobe Communications Site, now used by the U.S. government, to its Okinawan owners, U.S. Forces Japan officials have said.

Specifically, they said, problems have emerged with a new communications system being developed for the replacement facility on Camp Hansen.

The land was to be returned to landowners and leaseholders at the end of May 2005 when the communications site, also known as the “Elephant Cage,” moved to its new Camp Hansen facility.

“While the vast bulk of the construction of the replacement facility is complete, a key communications system being developed in the U.S. has not satisfactorily passed its tests,” a USFJ spokesman said in a written response to a Stars and Stripes query.

“Without this communications system, the site cannot perform its operational mission,” the spokesman said. “More work remains to be done before the new site can be declared operational and take over the mission of Sobe.”

No firm turnover date has been scheduled, the spokesman said, but both U.S. and Japanese governments are seeking ways to make the transfer at the earliest opportunity. In an early December news release, the Defense Facilities Agency Naha Bureau stated that it still hopes to keep to the original schedule.

However, the USFJ spokesman called DFAB plans for a May 2005 turnover unrealistic.

A total of 452 landowners and leaseholders own the 132-acre U.S. Navy installation, according to a DFAB Naha official. Landowner Shoichi Chibana said he is the only one who didn’t agree voluntarily to renew the lease, leading the Japanese government to force him to renew under the U.S. Military Land Special Law.

Chibana, a Yomitan village assembly member, said DFAB has not contacted him about any possible delay.

“I know no more than what has been reported” by news media, he said Wednesday.

The U.S. and Japanese governments originally agreed in December 1996 to return the site by March 2001.

“It has been already delayed for four years,” Chibana said. “If the closure does not happen by May, the Japanese government again breaks their promise. But from what I read and heard, the reason for the delay is with the U.S. firm” constructing the new communications equipment.

“In a way,” he said, “I feel sorry for the government that they have to take blame for something that they have no control over.”

If the latest problems delay the turnover only for “a month or so,” Chibana said, he would be displeased but would say nothing. However, he said, a delay of a year or more would be unacceptable.

“If the return of the communication site is delayed, the return of the rest of the airfield will also be delayed, which is a major problem for the village’s post-military land redevelopment plan,” he said.

Much of the Yomitan auxiliary airfield, which adjoins Sobe, now is unused because the communications site needs the space for a buffer zone, he said.

Chibana said he has no immediate plans to organize a protest.

“All I want is the government to return the land as they promised us,” he said.


Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up