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F-15 shifts could alter Futenma relocation

Date Posted: 2009-09-17

The United States and Japan are positioned over the chessboard that more than resembles Japan, pondering the moves involving F-16 and F-15 jet fighters, while calculating the political pluses and minuses to each potential board move.

It’s a high stakes game that’s been playing out since early April, with American military leaders wanting to pull about 40 F-16 fighter aircraft from Misawa Air Base in northern Japan late this year, while at the same time removing about 50 F-15 planes now at Kadena Air Base here in Okinawa. The plans have been repeatedly discussed by those responsible for the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the forces restructuring in the country, but moves have been tempered and delayed by the tenuous situation in Korea.

The plan was seemingly simple; remove the aging aircraft consistent desires and defense strategies being mapped by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. The uncertainties with what North Korea might do slowed everything, and now there’s a new player in town.

Yukio Hatoyama is the new sheriff, leading the Democratic Party of Japan to landslide victories in the Lower House of Representatives August 30th. Hatoyama and the DPJ want changes in the Japanese government, particularly in military relations with the U.S. Relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station out of Okinawa, and not merely to northern Okinawa from its current home in densely populated Ginowan City, has been a recurring DPJ theme.

Now, with talk of removing the fighter aircraft from Kadena Air Base, earlier proposals to relocate Futenma to Kadena are being brushed off and given a second look. Japanese leaders contend everything’s a ‘win-win’ because removing F-16’s from Misawa would please Aomori Prefecture, and reducing the number of F-15’s at Kadena would cut aircraft noise and lower the possibilities of aviation accidents. Moving the F-15’s would also mean there’s space on Kadena to absorb the Futenma mission, according to many politicians.

Defense-minded politicians are crying ‘hold on’, ‘let’s not be hasty’ as they insist both Japan and U.S. leaders should sit back and wait to see what North Korea and China are going to do next. They cite China’s rapid moves to modernize its military and expand to international waters with its navy, and North Korea’s missile tests.

Neither government is wanting to talk much, with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo referring queries to the Pentagon, and the military being closed mouth other than to confirm talks are under way. The only thing U.S. leaders are saying—both at the Defense Department and Department of State—is that plans for moving 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam are still going forward without interruption.

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