National

Okinawa pitches Futenma 'dispersal'

SDF bases, airports from Kyushu to Hokkaido proposed as relocation sites instead of Henoko

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Okinawa contacted the office of the U.S. secretary of defense earlier this week with proposals to relocate the contingent at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to other parts of Japan outside the prefecture, saying there are 35 commercial airports and military facilities, from Kyushu to Hokkaido, that could serve as candidate sites.

In a letter and 27-page PowerPoint presentation sent to Mark Lippert, recently appointed chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Okinawa government says it’s making the proposals to avoid a disaster, in reference to the strong local opposition to replacing the Futenma base with a planned new airstrip on the Henoko coast of Nago.

The letter was written by Yukie Yoshikawa, a fellow at the Regional Security Division, Executive Office of the Governor, Okinawa Prefecture, on behalf of Susumu Matayoshi, head of the Executive Office.

“I fear there is a very good reason to believe the U.S.-Japan alliance is the Titanic simply headed toward an iceberg, and I believe our warning must be heard at the top level before it’s too late.

“As you know, the Futenma issue has been a long-standing problem for both the United States and Japan. (Okinawa) sincerely wants to see it solved in a reasonable and sustainable way, for all parties, including the locals,” the letter reads, calling for a meeting in Washington between Matayoshi and Lippert to discuss the proposals.

Okinawa has been researching possible alternative sites, and came up with a plan based, it said, on open sources in the U.S., including a U.S. Navy report that described the operational requirements of the same types of aircraft stationed at Futenma, including the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transports and fixed-wing aircraft.

Taking into account issues ranging from the number of residents around the facilities to runway lengths, the availability of essential utilities, and accommodations for the marines and new construction needs, Okinawa said it found 35 possible relocation sites outside the prefecture.

The proposals suggest particular attention be given to Self-Defense Forces bases in Kyushu and northern Japan as candidate relocation sites, noting stationing the marines on SDF bases would enhance interoperability.

“Kyushu has airports and (SDF) bases closer to the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula than Henoko, and relocating there would make strategic sense. The marines would be better prepared for a Korean Peninsula contingency if located in northern Japan, which shares a similar climate,” the PowerPoint proposal reads.

Okinawa suggests the marines at Futenma, which is in the city of Ginowan, could be “dispersed” to several locations throughout Japan. Or instead of moving the marines in one stage, such as the current plan to relocate them and their aircraft to Henoko farther north on Okinawa Island, a temporary relocation site could be arranged, while a final site was prepared.

“Relocation at multiple stages would allow quick removal of danger (while) giving enough time to prepare for (construction of) the final relocation site(s),” the Okinawan government said.

The proposals lack logistical details, like what arrangements would be made for the dependants who live with the marines.

In March, Tokyo applied for Nakaima’s permission to begin work to fill in offshore areas at Henoko to accommodate the runways at the planned new airstrip. Although a local fisheries co-op gave its OK for the project, all 41 local governments in Okinawa, the prefectural assembly and the Okinawa chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party voiced opposition to the current Henoko plan, placing Nakaima in a bind.

“If Gov. Nakaima were to authorize the petition, he would instantly lose his political say, creating political chaos, with many small groups but no significant leaders to represent the local voice, which means both (the governments of) Japan and the U.S. would lose their counterpart in Okinawa,” Yoshikawa told Lippert.

“There are also people who are willing to lie down at the construction site in front of a bulldozer. Then, (Japan) has two options: either stop there and simply wait for . . . a U.S. military aircraft (to crash at Futenma), or start construction despite casualties,” she wrote.

“If (Nakaima) were to deny the (reclamation) petition, the government of Japan would either appeal to the courts, or pass a bill to allow the prime minister to authorize the land-fill on his behalf, (something that probably depends) on the results of the Upper House election in late July. If construction is decided, you will get the same results as above,” she said.

In a phone interview with The Japan Times, Yoshikawa said Okinawa had not yet heard from anyone in Washington about the proposals, but noted Hagel will probably reply through Tokyo.

U.S. officials say the Okinawa proposals to disperse the marines to either commercial airports or SDF bases is unworkable for political and logistical reasons. In the late 1990s, the U.S. looked into relocating the Futenma operations to mainland SDF bases, but noted while there were many logistical pluses, there were high legal and political hurdles.

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