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Futenma choppers could move to Kadena, while fixed wing C-130 aircraft go to Iwakuni

Date Posted: 2005-05-27

Futenma Marine Corp Air Station will move its 60 helicopters to Kadena Air Base if Japanese authorities get their way.

A new plan unveiled by government sources is now in the hands of U.S. planners in Washington, recommending that Kadena become home to the Marines’ helicopters, while more than a dozen air refueling tankers, C-130 turboprop aircraft, shift to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The proposal would take pressure off the Japanese government, which is now committed to building the controversial joint military-civilian airport on Okinawa’s north side near Nago.

That airport, which was agreed to in 1996, and was to be operational in the mid-2000’s, has been mired in environmental, economic and political muck almost since the location was announced. Environmentalists don’t want it built because of potential damage to dudongs and coral, politicians including Governor Keiichi Inamine, are opposed because it fixes no limits on America’s presence on the new airbase, and others express concerns the economy can be better served without the continued military presence on the island.

Informed sources say the proposal to Washington also contains a clause that could move nearly a dozen U.S. Navy P-3C ocean patrol and surveillance aircraft from Kadena to the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Kanoya Base in Kagoshima. Moving the ten aircraft could be a token move to appease Kadena community leaders who oppose increased military activity in their backyard. Officials say the P-3C moves would reduce the number of take offs and landings at Kadena, already a noise pollution issue with nearby residents.

Japan is reportedly wooing the Prefecture Government leadership with promises of new subsidies and other forms of financial incentives to prop up the local social infrastructure. It would go far to counter opposition nearly every Japanese and American military protocols specialist knows will come if decisions are made to keep Futenma functions on the island.

Kadena has already voiced strong opposition to having Marine Corps units in geographic proximity to their community. Kadena Air Base is surrounded by Kadena, Okinawa City and Chatan. The actions all stem from a May 9th report by The Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structure of the United States to President George W. Bush and Congress. The committee made the recommendation in light of the strong opposition to the Henoko replacement airport site.

The Air Force has been adamantly opposed to taking on additional tenants, particularly Marine Corps units. That opposition dates back to 1996, when the original Special Action Committee on Okinawa recommendations included suggestions Futenma be moved to Kadena. Since a Marine Corps helicopter crashed just outside Futenma last August, the pressure has increased. Nobody was injured in the crash onto the Okinawa International University campus, but military opponents have called that “pure luck.”

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