WASHINGTON – The U.S. Marine Corps expects to use the Futenma air station in Okinawa for at least another 10 to 15 years, a top officer told a Senate hearing Thursday amid a stalemate over the facility’s contentious replacement plan.
“We will be at Futenma for probably the next 10 to 15 years,” said Maj. Gen. James Kessler, commander of the Marine Corps Installations Command, indicating the land the base sits on in a populous residential area of the city of Ginowan may not be returned to Japan until 2028, although the bilaterally agreed upon time frame is “fiscal 2022 or later.”
Japan and the U.S. plan to replace with Futenma base with an airstrip to be built in the less-populated Henoko coastal area in Nago despite strong local opposition to the current and any replacement facility.
In April, the two sides outlined the time frame for the relocation as part of a new agreement for the return of facilities and areas used by U.S. forces in Okinawa, but it fell short of being a firm deadline.
Kessler also pitched for the need to continue support for aging facilities at Futenma to “maintain a level of safety and operational capability” for the next 10 to 15 years.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said Friday he wants Futenma to be moved as soon as possible, noting 10 years is “like a fixed state” of the U.S. base.
“Futenma is located in the middle of a town,” Nakaima said. “(The burden of the bases) needs to be shouldered by all of Japan.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference that Tokyo will continue to proceed with the base replacement effort in line with the bilateral agreement.