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Shifting flights from Okinawa not likely to “lessen burden”

Date Posted: 2010-05-14

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s plans for shifting the balance of U.S. military operations on Okinawa, which includes a call for relocating U.S. Air Force training flights to mainland Japan, is raising eyebrows over whether the move will do anything to lessen the burden Okinawa Prefecture is carrying.

Kadena Air Base has long been lambasted for serious noise pollution stemming from it being home base to 60 F-15 fighters and 15 KC-135 air refueling tankers, as well as a set of P-3 Orion Navy reconnaissance aircraft and many visiting aircraft missions, and Okinawa Prefecture officials would like to see a cutback.

The 2006 Japan-U.S. Roadmap for Realignment Implementation calls for Kadena training flights, as well as those at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture and Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture to be relocated to six Japan Air Self Defense Force bases on the mainland. The agreement, already being implemented, called for the sites to handle 21 training sessions, including 10 at Kadena. A half-dozen F-15s from Kadena already shifted to the ASDF’s Hyakuri base in Ibaraki Prefecture for a joint drill with eight ASDF planes in late January and early February.

Even with that, Kadena Town officials are still complaining there’s still noise pollution above acceptable levels. In fiscal 2008, the government registered 39,357 occasions in which U.S. aircraft exceeded the upper limit set by national government standards.

A problem still on the table is how to resolve operational problems stemming from the relocations. Required construction of barracks for U.S. troops, and beefing up runways used for drills, are concerns. The difficulty of coordinating training schedules of U.S. Air Force and ASDF forces has officials worried, as does the difficulty of developing ASDF-specific exercises because of the airfield requirements for combined operations.


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