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Senate panel rejects Marines relocation plan

Date Posted: 2011-06-23

Calling the Defense Department plan “not necessary”, the Senate Armed Services Committee has rejected $156 million in defense spending for the coming year that’s been sought by the Obama administration.

The bill, a draft of the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, was turned thumbs down unanimously by the committee. Included in that bill were provisions prohibiting funds for the transfer of Marines to ‘Guam until “tangible progress” is made in the issue of relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. The draft directed the Department of Defense to consider again a proposal for integrating Futenma into the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena air Base, rather than building a replacement facility at the Marines’ Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa.

Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D—Michigan, had rejected the Futenma relocation plan last month during a visit to Okinawa with Sen. James Webb, D-Virginia. The two, along with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, had issued a report against the plan following the Asia visit. As the bill stripping out $156 million from the $683 billion bill was approved this week, Levin called the Futenma relocation plan flawed with requirements involving huge costs, adding it would be impossible to carry out.

A statement issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee said “The defense secretary must certify to Congress that tangible progress has been made to relocate Futenma.” It said roughly $150 million earmarked for the relocation of both Marines and Futenma “are not necessary in this fiscal year.” Levin calls the current relocation plan “an illusion”, noting the opposition from Okinawans to moving Futenma to a new location on the island.

Current plans, which the Defense Department has signaled will not be changed, call for creating the new airbase on Camp Schwab, with a pair of V-shape runways extending into adjacent Oura Bay. The completion target date has been 2014, but it’s expected Japan and the U.S. will back off the deadline.

The Senate panel prefers having Kadena Air Base absorb Futenma’s aircraft and missions, perhaps moving some Air Force units now on the Kadena Air Base to other locations, including at an American air base in Guam.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be hosting Japan’s Foreign Minister, Takeaki Matsumoto, and Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa in Washington, where they’re expected to agree to removing the deadline date.

Apart from the Okinawa relocation objections, the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected the Defense Department’s plan for relocating as many as 12,000 families to South Korea on accompanied tours. There are currently 1,400 families among the 28,000 U.S. forces in South Korea, and the panel voiced concerns that apart from the high costs, the tensions and uncertainties of what North Korea will do next along its border with the south, the plan isn’t practical.

The Senate Armed Services Committee vote casts confusion upon what happens next. The Senate Appropriations Committee must now address the spending items, which involve moving 8,000 Marines to Guam as part of the Futenma relocation agreement first signed in 2006. The House of Representatives has already passed the 2012 Defense Authorization Act, fully funding the Obama administration’s spending request that includes the money for transferring the Marines.

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