Tuesday, January 04, 2011

F-15s to train in Guam


* Okinawa training function moved to Guam

Photo shows an Air Force F-15 flying a patrol mission. Japanese media has reported that some training functions of F-15 fighters stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa will be moved to Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A recent agreement between Japan and the United States would move some training functions of F-15 fighters stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa to Guam, according to a report from the Yomiuri Shimbun.

The airbase is home to two F-15 squadrons of the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Wing. The move is expected to happen this year, according to Japanese government sources cited by the report.

If final approval is granted, it will be the first time exercises of U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa Prefecture have been moved out of that country.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa are expected to finalize the agreement on Jan. 13 during a two-day visit by Gates to Japan.

The agreement is seen as a type of offering to Okinawa as a reduction of the “burden borne by the prefecture in hosting U.S. bases, and hopes to use it as a beachhead to get the prefecture's cooperation on the stalled plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within the prefecture,” the sources said.

The U.S. has kept two fighter squadrons -- each currently comprised of 24 F-15s -- permanently stationed at the Kadena base, which is one of the United States' largest strategic military locations outside the U.S. mainland.

Local residents in Okinawa have often complained of the noise pollution produced by the base's aircraft.

The Japanese government has been trying to have the United States move the training functions of as much as one full F-15 squadron to Guam.

The sources said fuel and other costs associated with the transfer of exercises will be financed by the exercise-relocation portion of the so-called “sympathy budget,” which are funds paid by Japan to cover the costs of having U.S. forces stationed in this nation.

The special supplemental accord to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement that is the legal basis for the sympathy budget will expire at the end of March, so the relocation costs will be incorporated in a new agreement that will come into effect from fiscal 2011, which starts on April 1, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara are expected to confirm the basic agreement on the transfer during a five-day visit to the United States by Maehara, scheduled to begin Thursday, according to the sources.

Maehara plans to sign a draft accord with U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos shortly.

The government hopes the accord will gain Diet approval by the end of March, during the ordinary Diet session that begins this month.

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