September 13, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo
[Helipad reporting team] On September 13, shortly after 9 a.m., the Okinawa Defense Bureau began transporting heavy equipment using two Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) CH-47 helicopters. The equipment must be transported in order to construct new helicopter landing pads (helipads) in the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area, which spans across Higashi Village and Kunigami Village. As of 11 a.m., observers have spotted the helicopters making three trips carrying 4-ton trucks and work vehicles with caterpillar treads attached to the G and H zones. It is highly unusual for JSDF aircraft to be deployed for the construction of a U.S. military facility, and it is the first time heavy equipment has been transported by JSDF aircraft for the construction of helipads in the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area.
The heavy equipment hung from the JSDF aircraft as they flew over prefectural road 70 from inside the Northern Training Area’s main gate to the N1, G and H zones, on the other side of the road, where new helipads are to be constructed. Vehicles drive along the prefectural road, and residents are raising criticisms due to safety concerns.Protesters opposed to the construction have been engaging in direct action to prevent dump trucks from carrying gravel into the construction site. As of 11:30 a.m., no dump trucks have been spotted.Shortly after 6 a.m. on September 13, the JSDF aircraft were seen circling above the N1 zone. Thereafter, they landed on the helipad near the main gate. Shortly before 9 a.m., preparations commenced to begin moving the heavy equipment. The helicopters belong to the 1st Helicopter Brigade of the Central Readiness Force stationed at Kisarazu Air Field.
Protesters in front of the main gate raised their voices in anger in response to the tactic, saying “don’t fly over the prefectural road!” and “have you really gone so far as to use JSDF aircraft?”
(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)