Yamaguchi Prefecture officially told the central government Monday that it will let the U.S. Marine Corps transfer its KC-130 refueling tankers from Futenma air base to Iwakuni to help reduce the U.S. military presence on Okinawa.
In a meeting with Vice Gov. Hidenori Fujibe and Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the long-delayed initiative to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma was still on track.
“We will do our utmost to realize as soon as possible the return (of land) occupied by the Futenma Air Station and its relocation to Henoko, Nago,” he was quoted as saying by a participant.
The transfer of the 15 KC-130s from the base in Ginowan, Okinawa, to the marines’ Iwakuni Air Station southwest of Hiroshima is expected to take place between June and September next year as part of an agreement originally reached in 1996 to build a sea-based replacement facility for the Futenma base.
Japan and the United States agreed long ago to move the contentious base to Henoko, a coastal area of Nago on the same island by building a replacement facility there.
In a separate meeting with Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, Fujibe expressed concern about the possibility that his prefecture will be left hanging alone if the Futenma base remains open after he agrees to host the tankers.
“If the relocation of the Futenma air base isn’t realized and the base continues to be used, it won’t make sense to relocate the KC-130s in the first place and it won’t lead to a reduction of the burden on Okinawa,” Fujibe said.
The central government is making efforts to encourage Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima to approve landfill work off Nago needed to build the Futenma replacement facility.
Nakaima has indicated he will decide by the end of this month whether to authorize the project.