U.S., SDF face new challenges 50 years on

by Reiji Yoshida

U.S. Forces Japan enjoys a mature, strong relationship with the Self-Defense Forces developed over the 50 years since establishing its headquarters here, according to the USFJ commander.

In an interview with The Japan Times, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright also pointed to continued security threats in the region, in particular North Korea’s increased missile capability.

On Monday, U.S. Forces Japan celebrated the 50th anniversary of its headquarters at a ceremony at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo.

Looking back on that history and his own service in Japan, Wright, the 21st commander of the U.S. Forces Japan, said he has seen major changes take place in the region’s security environment, including the fall of Soviet Union, the rapid economic and military growth of China, and the emergence of a “potentially dangerous” situation with North Korea.

Last year, Pyongyang tested what is believed to be a Taepodong 2 ballistic missile that reportedly has a range exceeding 6,000 km — putting Hawaii and Alaska within its reach.

The missile failed soon after launch, plunging into the Sea of Japan, according to the Japanese and U.S. governments.

However, Wright said that North Korean missiles, if improved, could pose a major threat to the U.S. mainland.

“I think we have to be very concerned” about North Korea’s missile capability, the general said.

A command pilot with F-4 and F-16 fighter experience, Wright came to Japan for the first time in 1978 as an instructor pilot at Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base.

After serving in the Philippines, the U.S., Spain and Germany, Wright came back to Japan as director of operations, U.S. Forces Japan, at Yokota Air Base, and in 1998 took command of a fighter wing at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture. He was assigned to his current command in February 2005.

Wright said he has seen a “maturing of the Japanese military” particularly in recent years, noting the SDF has built up closer relations with the U.S. military, dispatched ground troops and C-130H transport airplanes to Iraq and sent destroyers to the Indian Ocean to provide logistic support to multinational forces.

Over the years, the governments of Japan and the U.S. have “found many common strategic objectives, and found in the alliance a very very capable mechanism,” Wright said. “Our alliance works, and has worked. I think our alliance is a tremendous example for the world.”

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