U.S. KC-130 relocation mulled

Japan and the United States are planning to change the relocation site for the command center for the U.S. KC-130 midair refueling aircraft unit from a Japanese base in Kagoshima Prefecture to a U.S. base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, according to Japanese government sources.

The move is a change from the October deal, in which the two governments agreed to give “priority consideration” to the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kanoya base in Kagoshima Prefecture as the destination for the entire unit.

The change is expected to be discussed at the next round of senior working-level talks on U.S. military realignment in Japan, scheduled to begin next Tuesday in Hawaii. Attendees will include foreign affairs and defense officials from the two countries.

Initially, the KC-130s were to be relocated from Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture to the U.S. Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture under a 1996 bilateral agreement.

But the latest report issued by the two sides in late October said alternative facilities would be would be considered, with priority given to the MSDF’s Kanoya base.

“The final basing configuration will be determined by both sides based on ongoing operational and engineering studies,” the October report says.

This development could affect the outcome of an Iwakuni city plebiscite March 12 on whether to accept another plan to move U.S. carrier-borne airplanes to the nearby U.S. base from the Atsugi Naval Air Station in Kanagawa Prefecture.

On the KC-130 move, Japan and the United States are currently arranging to send, at minimum, the command center of the refueling aircraft unit to Iwakuni, at Washington’s request for the change in destinations, the sources said.

Washington reportedly has been demanding the entire unit — personnel, family housing, and aircraft parking apron and hangar — be moved to Iwakuni instead of Kanoya.

Japan initially said it was impossible to change the site, concerned that revising one part of the realignment plan could lead to changes in other areas, the sources said.

But under pressure from Washington, Tokyo has decided to compromise.

A senior Defense Agency official said there were no operational problems with the change as Iwakuni was the destination of the aerial tankers named in the 1996 final report of the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa.

U.S. radar in Aomori

AOMORI (Kyodo) The Defense Facilities Administration Agency will ask the Aomori Prefectural and Tsugaru Municipal governments Friday to host a U.S. military radar for missile defense at the Air Self-Defense Force base in Tsugaru, Aomori Prefecture, local sources said Thursday.

Agency officials will visit the prefecture to make the formal request to have the mobile X-band radar for an advanced early warning system against ballistic missiles deployed to the ASDF base, the sources said.

The prefecture is expected to consider the matter through discussions in the assembly and holding a presentation session for area residents.

A panel of three members, including a former Maritime Self-Defense Force member well-versed in ballistic missile defense, which the prefecture established, presented it with a report Thursday saying deploying the radar “is meaningful and will not have adverse effects on nearby residents.”

According to the panel’s report, the radar will use an “X-band” frequency to detect ballistic missiles immediately after launch, track them and identify projected targets.

Although the installation will emit electromagnetic waves, they will pose no risk to the public if an off-limits zone with a radius of about 100 meters is set up and there will be no radio or TV transmission disruptions, it said.

A senior official at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said in early February that the United States plans to deploy the radar in Japan within six months as part of bilateral missile defense cooperation.

Japan and the United States began a joint missile defense project after North Korea fired a long-range missile in August 1998 that flew over Japan and dropped into the Pacific Ocean.