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‘Strategic’ Okinawa will remain vital to U.S. interests

Date Posted: 2006-06-10

Okinawa’s top Marine says “Okinawa is a very, very strategic piece of ground,” and predicts it will remain so for a long time.

Lieutenant General Joseph Weber says the realignment of US military assets in Asia will give Japan more responsibility for Asia security, while moving Marines off Okinawa will provide “much better use of our capabilities to disperse where it can be a deterrent to traditional threats and also to the new threats of terrorism. “The key to the defense of Japan and the security of the region is not necessarily to have 18,000 Marines sitting on Okinawa.

Weber admits there will be delays in response times when 8,000 Marines are shifted to Guam, but says technological improvements will offset those concerns. He says the Marines’ new Osprey, a long range, high speed vertical takeoff aircraft, will be deployed to the region within the next few years, adding to capabilities. The Osprey will be sent to Guam if the realignment moves quickly, or to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa if the process moves more slowly.

The use of faster amphibious ships to move Marines to trouble spots across the region will also play a role in the military’s future Asia Pacific planning. “We’re seeing the way we fight warfare change,” he says, talking about the endless opportunities for improved radar and missile technologies replacing tasks now performed by troops on the ground. Weber thinks pilotless aircraft will also save lives on future battlefields.

Weber believes the transformation process will be a “sincere step” to relieve the burdens on Okinawans, who’ve borne the bulk of American forces in Japan since World War II. He says about 10,000 Marines will remain on Okinawa after the realignment is complete in 2014. There are presently 23,000 U.S. troops on Okinawa. Marines make up the largest numbers, followed by the Air Force at Kadena. The Army and Navy have small contingents on Okinawa.

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