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No Kadena-Futenma Merger: PACAF Commander likes Kadena as it is

Date Posted: 2012-01-13

The notion of merging the Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station with Kadena Air Base in Okinawa doesn’t impress the top U.S. Air Force commander in the Pacific, who says he likes things the way they are.

General Gary North, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces commanding general, says “I’m very comfortable with the lay down that we have at Kadena right now,” dismissing the proposals for integrating the two major air operations here. The official U.S. ~ Japan plan is to relocate Futenma from Ginowan City in central Okinawa to Camp Schwab in the Nago City Henoko district, but that concept has been encountering opposition from politicians, environmentalists and economists who don’t think it’s feasible.

For that matter, neither does Carl Levin, the U.S. Senator heading the Senate Armed Services Committee. Levin visited Okinawa last year, and left telling Governor Hirokazu Nakaima he thinks Henoko’s a bad idea. Nakaima, who once supported the relocation to northern Okinawa but now opposes it, agrees with Levin. Levin now is calling on the Pentagon to relocate some of its Air Force missions from Kadena to other bases in the Pacific, and then move Marine Corps aviation elements into the vacated spaces at Kadena.

Levin, along with fellow senators James Webb of Virginia and John McCain of Arizona, contend the Futenma relocation project to Henoko is simply too expensive. Japan and the U.S. are continuing to insist they’ll stick with the relocation plan to Henoko, which they first agreed upon in 2006, and reconfirmed nearly a year ago with then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. His predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, had also stuck with the Henoko plan even after his Democratic Party of Japan ran for election—and won—on grounds they’d move the base out of Okinawa.

General North is standing fast on the Air Force desire to keep Kadena an “Air Force only” base, even though the sprawling 11,000 acre facility houses a U.S. Navy element that includes squadrons of P-3 Orion long range surveillance aircraft. “I think when those proposals came up,” North said of the consolidation plans, “our two governments analyzed and reviewed everyone’s proposals.” After that, North reiterates, the 2006 plan is “a very solid proposal.”

The Pacific Air Forces leader says the two governments “are continuing to work through these plans, so I think we should let them continue to do the work that’s been agreed upon.” North also confirmed that “routine deployments of those squadrons either into Japan or Guam or Hawaii is on our schedule,” referring to basing of the F-22A Raptor aircraft at Kadena. “We will continue to deploy that airplane and others throughout the region to meet our training and operations requirements.”

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