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Ministry looking for off-Okinawa site for Futenma

Date Posted: 2011-01-07

The feasibility study has been conducted quietly, outside view of the news media, as Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government looks for a brokered solution to the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation.

Defense Ministry workers have been studying the pro-and-con aspects of relocating some Futenma training functions to sites in Hokkaido and Honshu, and even Kyushu. Japan hasn't approached the United States with the ideas, but if the proposals were to be approved, officials say the Okinawa burden of hosting U.S. bases would be greatly reduced.

Equally important, they say, moving the helicopter unit's training functions outside the prefecture would improve safety.

Government agencies have been very discrete in conducting the study, which calls Ground Self Defense Force training areas in Honshu, Kyushu and Hokkaido good possibilities. Toshimi Kitazawa, the Defense Minister, calls the concept good for everyone. U.S. officials have yet to be officially briefed on the proposals, which would move the unit responsible for moving Marines around Okinawa to a base thousands of kilometers away, far from where integrated ground- and air-squad training operations take place.

One training area is Yausubetsu in northeastern Hokkaido, where U.S. live fire exercises have taken place since being moved from Okinawa under a 1996 agreement. Others are Ojojihara in Miyagi Prefecture, Kita-Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture, Higashi-Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture, and Hijudai in Oita Prefecture. Another being considered for rotational use are midsize GSDF training areas on Honshu and Hokkaido that already host joint U.S.-Japan ground exercises.

Okinawa's governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, has said he wants Futenma moved completely off Okinawa, but Democratic Party of Japan officials and the government are hoping he'll become more accepting of keeping Futenma here, if some of his other demands are met. Government officials say they will begin talking to U.S. officials about possible moves sometime later in 2011, even as talks continue with Okinawa.

Japan tried already to get the U.S. involved in an off-Okinawa exercise at Kirishima Training Ground along the Miyhazaki-Kagoshima prefecture border. The U.S. refused to go along, as they did earlier this year with suggestions the Aibano training area be used for joint exercises.

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