Lack of clear time frame, cost forecast cited

Senate continues to deny Futenma transfer funding

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee advised this week that funding for the U.S. military realignment in the Pacific continue to be denied due to the lack of a clear timetable and cost estimate for the completion of a replacement facility for the Futenma airbase in Okinawa.

“Uncertain time lines for completing necessary projects, such as a replacement facility for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, will likely lead to additional U.S. costs,” a report by the panel released Wednesday says. “Uncertainty about those costs cautions against lifting congressional restrictions on Department of Defense spending to implement some of the posture changes until detailed estimates are completed and provided to Congress.”

Despite the recent reaffirmation by Tokyo and Washington that they will stick to a 2005 agreement to build Futenma’s replacement on reclaimed land in Henoko, and despite Abe’s announcement earlier this month that Futenma would be returned to Japan sometime after 2022, the Senate committee expressed deep skepticism this will ever happen.

“While it appears that (the Henoko project) is technically achievable, the reality is that the cost and time required to complete it, combined with the substantial local political and public opposition to the plan, make it clear the project will likely never be finished. Even if it is, it will cost more and take longer than even the most conservative estimates have projected to date,” the report says, repeating the language in a similar report the committee issued two years ago.

In addition, the report expresses concern about the amount, and structure, of Japanese financial support for U.S. military facilities.

Japan offers what is known as “host nation support” in English and as a “sympathy budget” in Japanese.

The bulk of the support comes primarily under two categories. The first is “special measures agreements,” which cover Japan’s contributions to U.S. costs for labor, utilities and training relocation. The second category is the “facility improvement program,” in which Japan provides funding for U.S. infrastructure and facilities.

The Senate report notes that Japan’s contributions under the most recent SMA and FIP agreements came to about $1.8 billion in 2012. That’s down from a peak of more than $2.5 billion a year in the late 1990s, and the Senate is worried because, unlike the SMA, which Tokyo and Washington negotiate every three to five years, FIP is a voluntary program on Japan’s part. Compared with the SMA, America’s influence on how money under the FIP is spent is much more limited.

The amount of FIP funding has declined significantly in the last 20 years, from more than $1 billion in 1992 to $200 million in 2012.

According to U.S. Forces Japan, about 20 percent of FIP funding is reserved for Japan-initiated projects.

The U.S. and Japan jointly produce a list of priority projects they want FIP funds for, but the committee noted that the top U.S. priorities are often not funded.

“Among those unfunded priorities in 2011 was a fire station at Camp Hansen (in Okinawa), which was priority number eight on the U.S. list, with an estimated cost of $4 million. Two years later, the fire station is still on the FIP list as a ‘new project to be negotiated,’ ” the report says.

By contrast, the report notes that among Japanese government-initiated projects on the 2011 list was a $2.9 million ‘safety countermeasure net’ at Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture. The safety countermeasure was actually a net that was built to surround the golf course at Camp Zama.

“USFJ is not able to review construction contracts between the government of Japan (GOJ) and the contractors that perform the work on U.S. installations,” it said. According to U.S. Forces Japan, the Japanese government has consistently refused to provide copies of the bid documents or construction contracts that reflect the costs of the projects.

“As a result, the U.S. is unable to verify amounts actually spent on FIP projects,” the report says.