Policy chief pitches alternative Futenma plan
By Chiyomi Sumida, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, January 7, 2010
NAHA, Okinawa — Transferring 23 F-15 fighter jets from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, to Misawa Air Base in mainland Japan would free up room for operations at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to be moved to Kadena, according to a proposal pitched Tuesday by the policy chief of one of the two junior partners of Japan’s coalition government.
Mikio Shimoji, a New People’s Party representative and a senior member of a subcommittee set up to find a settlement on the relocation issue, said his party’s plan included moving training normally conducted at Kadena to mainland Japan.
Sending the visiting aircraft to train at Kansai Airport in Osaka, as well as using Ie-Shima island and the Higashi Fuji training ground for Marine helicopter exercises, will greatly reduce the noise that is a frequent complaint of Okinawans, Shimoji told reporters at his campaign office.
On Camp Schwab, meanwhile, helipads would be built instead of runways, Shimoji said.
“Additionally,” he said, “if the United States wishes, Futenma air station can remain under U.S. military control for contingency purposes,” which would allow the Okinawan landowners to continue to receive rent from the U.S. military.
The subcommittee, set up by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama last month after he set a deadline of May to reach a formal agreement with the U.S. on Futenma, will forward its plan to Hatoyama “by the end of January,” Shimoji said.
The subcommittee still has some work to do. Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the other junior coalition partner, insists on moving the operations outside Okinawa, possibly to Guam.
Hatoyama said last month after the delay announcement that he would seek a solution that would be acceptable for both Okinawa residents and the United States. Meanwhile, the United States maintains its stance that the present plan to move Futenma operations to Camp Schwab as agreed in 2006 is the only viable option.
“If Kansai Airport and Higashi Fuji become available for the military to use as training sites, it would be an added value for the military,” Shimoji said.
Relocating the Futenma operations within Okinawa is the most realistic and feasible solution, he stressed.
“This is a now-or-never chance for Okinawa to remarkably reduce the presence of the military on the island,” he said.