Finding U.S. landing site faces delay

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) A candidate site for a permanent facility in Japan for U.S. warplanes to practice landing on aircraft carriers will not be selected by the primary deadline of July, according to Japanese and U.S. sources.

The training is currently being conducted on a provisional basis on Iwojima, or Iwoto as it is now named, by U.S. naval aircraft stationed at the Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture. Iwoto is about 1,200 km from Honshu.

The May 2006 agreement between Japan and the United States on the realignment of U.S. military forces specified that a site for the permanent training facility should be selected by next month or at the earliest possible date thereafter.

According to the sources, Tokyo already notified Washington of the delay when it turned down a U.S. request for a site to be selected within 180 km of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The Defense Ministry and the Maritime Self-Defense Force, which are responsible for the project, have been trying to select a site from a broader area.

Because aircraft activities, including night landing practice, cause serious noise pollution, the selection process for the facility has been hard going.

The Japanese government considered Okurokami Island in Hiroshima Prefecture, Mage Island in Kagoshima Prefecture and the vicinity of Sukumo, Kochi Prefecture, as candidate sites, but the plans were aborted after strong protests.

The U.S. side appears to be unhappy with the delay, according to the sources, because it could affect the schedule for relocating naval aircraft from Atsugi to Iwakuni.

An official in the U.S. Department of Defense reiterated the importance of the training facility and said the selection of a site is a basic premise for the aircraft relocation from Atsugi to Iwakuni.

According to a Defense Ministry source, the training facility issue is considered one of the key but hidden obstacles to the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan.