Japan, U.S. to promote transfer of Osprey training away from Okinawa

Kyodo

Tokyo and Washington are set to unveil Thursday a string of measures aimed at mitigating the impact of U.S. forces on Okinawa, including promoting the transfer of Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey training flights outside of Okinawa or abroad, sources close to bilateral ties said Monday.

The measures to be finalized at a meeting of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet also include allowing fishing boats to enter waters east of Okinawa’s main island, designated as a training area for the U.S. military, which are effectively off-limits to such vessels at present.

The move is aimed at helping to pave the way for the construction of a replacement facility farther north on Okinawa Island for U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma, given the need to obtain authorization from Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for a landfill in a coastal area designated for the future facility.

It has been closely watched whether the governor, who has been opposed to the transfer of Futenma within his prefecture, will grant permission for the proposed landfill sometime between the end of this year and early next year.

A bilateral document to be concluded at the so-called two-plus-two security meeting is expected to state that U.S. Marine personnel on Okinawa would start being moved to Guam in the first half of the 2020s, according to the sources.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and their U.S. counterparts, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry, are expected to agree to steadily promote the transfer of training flights for hybrid Osprey aircraft stationed at Futenma to locations outside of Okinawa or abroad.

But the bilateral document is not expected to provide details on locations or countries to which such training would be transferred because of a lack of coordination between Japan and the U.S., according to the sources.

The deployment of the tilt-rotor aircraft at the Futenma air station in the densely populated city of Ginowan has become a controversial issue for the people of the prefecture, who have raised concerns over the Osprey’s due to a series of crashes overseas involving variants of the aircraft.

Until now, fishing boats have effectively been barred from entering waters east of Okinawa Island known as the “Hotel/Hotel training area.”

On Thursday, Tokyo and Washington are likely to confirm that the U.S. military will notify the Japanese government ahead of time whenever it does not use the area and that fishing boats would be allowed to enter part of the area during that period.

According to people with knowledge of the matter, such a system for prior notification has existed but has never been put into practice, effectively barring fishing boats from navigating in the area.

The two sides are also making arrangements for a bilateral document to state that aerial tankers at Futenma would be transferred to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture by the end of fiscal 2014.

They are also expected to note in the document that they will start reviewing the existing guidelines on bilateral defense cooperation, which were stipulated in 1997, with a view to reaching a conclusion on them at an early date.