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Moving Marines to Guam to cost $7.1 billion more

Date Posted: 2011-06-02

The United States is going to have to cough up an additional $7.1 billion more than has previously been stated publicly to make relocating 8,600 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam a reality.

The General Accountability Office, the American watchdog agency charged with reviewing estimated costs for realigning U.S. forces in Japan, is telling the Defense Department to come clean with its estimates on what it will take to relocate Futenma Marine Corps Air Station and to move combat Marines from Okinawa. The GAO says current estimates “appear to be underestimated” and without reliable information on program specifics.

The GAO says it’s calculations are that the U.S. and Japan will have to foot a combined bill of $29.1 billion to make the necessary initiatives happen. The U.S. agency has based its findings on an October 2006 estimate provided by the Japanese government. Japan’s share of the realignment totaled $15.9 billion, while the U.S. was to ante up $13.2 billion. In all, Japan’s obligations were pegged at $9.8 billion, excluding the Marines’ move.

The calculations break into several categories, including Japan shelling out $3.6 billion for the relocation of the Marine Corps’ Futenma air station in Ginowan to the coastal area of Nago City. Add to that another $4.2 billion from Japan to cover costs of reconsolidating bases and troops in Okinawa, and the total’s $7.8 billion.

What is not included in the $7.8 billion is the cost of moving Marines to Guam from Okinawa. The 2006 Japan-U.S. Agreement stipulated a total of $10.3 billion in costs to be shared by the two nations. That figure, says the GAO, is simply too low. It’s report indicates the U.S. will have to set aside an additional $4.7 billion for constructing facilities in Guam, and an additional $2.4 billion for procuring equipment.

The GAO says it hasn’t determined the total costs of realigning U.S. forces in Japan, but cautions the impact of Japan’s March 11th massive earthquake and tsunami could be “there is potential for increases in the cost of materials and labor in Asia.” The GAO says Defense Department planning guidance “does not require the U.S. Pacific Command to include comprehensive cost data in its theater posture plan,” and a as result, the department “lacks critical information”. The GAO says its ability to make realistic estimates are restricted because of the uncertainties about when construction of the Futenma replacement facility at Camp Schwab and Henoko district of Nago City will actually begin.

Further, the GAO notes, its calculations are triple what has been publicly stated to now. That’s enough to potentially rile the U.S. Congress, which must appropriate the funding. Already, three well known U.S. Senators have spoken out against the Futenma relocation as being “unrealistic”, instead calling for its consolidation with Kadena Air Base.

Japan’s Foreign Minister, Takeaki Matsumoto, says Japan and the U.S. will stay the course on the realignment deal already agreed to, despite the GAO report. He says the 2006 agreement reaffirmed in May 2010 to relocate Futenma and move some 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam is still on track.

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