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U.S. not excited about Futenma relocation to mainland island

Date Posted: 2010-04-22

The residents don’t want a Marine Corps helicopter base on their island, and the U.S. government agrees: it does not want to move any of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station functions to tiny Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Marine Corps perspective is that the distance between Tokunoshima Island and Okinawa, about 200 kilometers, is simply too far to be effective in event of a contingency or even training. It would take the 1st Marine Air Wing’s helicopters today about an hour to make the flight commute. Even with the new MV-22 Osprey multi-mission helicopters in the inventory in coming years, it would still take at least 40 minutes one way, more than the half-hour maximum military leaders consider the limit.

The MV-22 Osprey, with its vertical take off and landing capabilities, would be able to work from the 2,000-meter runway at Tokunoshima, but officials say the distance is too far for effective training or quick reaction. Add to that the fact Tokunoshima Airport has no facilities to house the helicopters, large construction projects would be required to build hangars and parking aprons, and that would mean land reclamation projects. The Tokunoshima Airport stretches along the island’s northwest coast.

The central government in Tokyo, under direction of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, envisions moving more than half of the Okinawa air unit’s 60 helicopters to Tokunoshima, with the remainder going to Camp Schwab on Okinawa’s northeast coast, and to other possible sites. There’s little expectation the U.S. government will buy into the concept.

The Marines’ leader in the Pacific, Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder, likened having his units stretched from Okinawa to mainland Japan as being the same as living and working in Tokyo, but parking his car in Osaka. Militarily, the Marine Corps Forces Pacific and other U.S military leaders believe Okinawa’s the best place from which to keep an eye on both the Korean peninsula and the Straits of Taiwan.

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