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Kadena looks like new home for Marine choppers

Date Posted: 2005-06-10

It’s beginning to look like a sure fire deal that Marine aviation assets now at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station will move a few miles north to Kadena Air Base.

Back room whispers are becoming louder between Japanese and American officials charged with making decisions on what to do with helicopters and refueling aircraft now operating from the controversial Futenma base. American officers now acknowledge the likelihood of 60 Marine helicopters moving to Kadena, perhaps before the end of the year. Demands Futenma be closed have intensified since a Marine cargo helicopter crashed just outside the base in the middle of sprawling Ginowan last August.

Discussions the past few weeks have suggested the fixed wing aircraft, C-130 refueling tankers, would move to mainland Japan and Iwakuni Air Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The relocation plan began in 1996 when the Special Actions Committee on Okinawa agreed Futenma was dangerous and should be moved as soon as a new base could be arranged.

Plans to construct a new commercial-military airport at Henoko, near Nago in northern Okinawa, have been mired in environmental and political controversy almost since the site was selected. Officially the Henoko plan remains, but few political observers believe the base will ever be built. Even if it is, completion is at least ten years away.

The relocation plans floated publicly only a few weeks ago also called for moving Navy P3C Orion reconnaissance aircraft from Kadena to a joint use Japan Maritime Self Defense Force Base in Kanoya City. That city’s mayor has already blasted the plan.

Kadena Town officials are already irritated by the idea of additional aircraft moving to Kadena Air Base. They have been lobbying for reductions at Kadena, and say they will fight the proposed base expansion, which they say will increase noise and potential dangers to citizens. Kadena Town leaders say they’d prefer the new military base be built in Henoko, as planned. Officials suggest the Kadena move could be accomplished much more quickly than waiting for Henoko to become reality.

Another controversial relocation spawned by base realignments moves Navy aircraft belonging to the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk form the current shore facility at Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Kanagawa Prefecture to the Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Base. Opposition to night flights in the Atsugi area has forced the Navy to conduct its nighttime training and aircraft carrier landing practice at Iwo Jima, a remote Japanese Island well east of Okinawa. Officials are hoping they’ll be able to conduct the night landing practice drills at Iwakuni, but are bracing for opposition from local residents.

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