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Marine Corps Air Station Futenma

On December 27, 2013 the governor of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa approved the relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps air station to reclaimed land along the coast, but said he will continue pressing to have the base moved completely off the island. Governor Hirokazu Nakaima approved the Japanese Defense Ministry's application to reclaim land for a new military base on Okinawa's coast. It would replace the U.S. Marine Corps base in Futenma, a more congested part of Okinawa's main island. However, the governor told a news conference later in the day that he still believed the quickest way to move Futenma troops would be to locate the base to some existing facility with runways outside Okinawa. Nakaima vowed during his campaign for office to have the U.S. base removed from the island. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe persuaded Nakaima to approve the move in a meeting December 25, 2013. As part of the agreement, the central government will provide increased financial assistance to the island.

Located in the midst of Futenma city, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is said to symbolize Okinawa's base-related issues such as the dangers of aircraft noise pollution and crashes. The MCAS Futenma covers about 480 hectares and includes a 2,800-meter-long and 46-meter-wide runway. It occupies a fourth of the total area of Ginowan City, and it is right in the center of the city. Roads, waterworks and sewerage systems have to make a detour to avoid the air station. It is a major obstacle to improving the city's infrastructure. In addition, to avoid inconvenience to US aircraft approaching to the air station, the height of buildings is restricted near the base, and thus redevelopment, which Ginowan City wants to undertake, cannot be carried out. The base has many support facilities including hangars, communication facilities, maintenance/repair facilities, parts warehouses, offices, a fire station, PX, clubs, bars, health clinics, and MWR facilities. It is well equipped with such facilities as hangars, a communication facility, maintenance and repair facilities, storage facilities, a fire station, and leisure/recreational facilities for US personnel.

MCAS Futenma's primary mission is to maintain and operate facilities and provide services and materials to support Marine aircraft operations. MCAS Futenma covers 1,188 acres of land and is completely surrounded by the urbanized growth of Ginowan City. The land at MCAS Futenma is leased from about 2,000 private landowners by the government of Japan. About 40 percent of the base is used for runways, taxiways, and aircraft parking. The remaining portions of the base are used for air operations, personnel support facilities, housing, and administrative activities. MCAS Futenma has a runway and parallel taxiway that are 9,000 feet long as well as an aircraft washrack, maintenance facilities, vehicle maintenance facilities, fuel storage facilities, a hazardous waste storage and transfer facility, a control tower, an armory, and other facilities needed to operate a Marine Corps air station.

Marine Corps Air Station Futenma began in 1945 as a bomber base. Construction of hangars and barracks began in 1958. The airfield was commissioned as a Marine Corps Air Facility in 1960 and became an Air Station in 1976. Located within Ginowan City, Okinawa, the Air Station was home to approximately 4,000 Marines and Sailors as of the early 2000s. It was capable of supporting most aircraft and served as the base for Marine Aircraft Group 36 and Marine Air Control Group 18. It was previously the home to 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, before that unit relocated its administrative headquarters to Camp Foster. The Air Station also provided support for the III Marine Expeditionary Force and for Marine Corps Base Camp Butler. Also, after 15 January 1969, MCAS Futenma served as a United Nations air facility and a divert base for Air Force and Naval aircraft operating in the vicinity of Okinawa.

In the Special Action Committee on Okinawa's (SACO) December 1996 Final Report, it was agreed upon that MCAS Futenma would be completely returned. With a land area of 4,806,000 meters squared, a total of 2,562 land owners were paid a yearly rental fee of 5.793 billion yen. However, if the Marine Corps presence was to be maintained with air and ground combat units and logistical support collocated on Okinawa, then a suitable replacement was required to maintain the operational capability of the III Marine Expeditionary Force's air combat element. A proposal was made to build a new 2,500-meter runway, to replace MCAS Futenma's facilities, over a reef that was almost 2 miles off the shores of Henoko.

A new Japanese proposal on relocating the heliport functions of the air base was made in October 2005. The heliport would be built partly within Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, extending out into the shallow waters. This reflected a modification of Japan's proposal that it be built completely within Camp Schwab. Japan considered a revised version of the Henoko proposal with a shorter, 1,500-meter runway. Critics charged that even the shorter runway off Henoko would cause irreparable damage to the environment.

On 5 April 2013, the US Department of Defense released a Consolidation Plan for Facilities and Areas in Okinawa. The realignment described in the plan, including consolidation, of US forces within Okinawa was a significant effort by the US and Japanese Governments, which recognized the importance of enhancing Japanese and US public support for the security alliance, which contributed to a sustainable presence of US forces at facilities and areas in Japan as stated in "U.S.-Japan Alliance: Transformation and Realignment for the Future," a document of the Security Consultative Committee (SCC), dated 29 October 2005. When implemented, the realignment would ensure a life-of-the-Alliance presence for US forces in Japan as stated in "United States-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation," also known as the Realignment Roadmap, another SCC document, dated 1 May 2006. The realignment would also maintain deterrence and mitigate the impact of US forces on local communities. In order to realize the realignment, the US and Japanese Governments developed and would implement the consolidation plan.

In a SCC Joint Statement on 27 April 2012, the US and Japanese Governments confirmed that the total or partial return of the 6 facilities and areas designated in the Realignment Roadmap remained unchanged and that the land of aforementioned facilities and areas utilized by US forces were eligible for return under the Consolidation Plan in 3 categories: 1) Areas eligible for immediate return upon completion of necessary procedures; 2) Areas eligible for return once the replacement facilities in Okinawa were provided; and, 3) Areas eligible for return as US Marine Corps forces relocate from Okinawa to locations outside of Japan. MCAS Futenma, a significant point of contention, was included in the second category. The total area designated for return was approximately 481 hectares. To prepare for the land return, Marine Corps airfield related facilities would have to be relocated to Camp Schwab; Marine Corps aviation unit and command function, and related facilities would have to be relocated to Camp Schwab; facility improvements for contingency use of the Japan Air Self Defense Force's Nyutabaru and Tsuiki Air Bases related to the replacement of MCAS Futenma capabilities would have to be implemented as necessary; improved contingency use of civilian facilities for long runway operations that cannot be replicated at the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) would have to be taken into account; measures would have to be taken to avoid creation of traffic congestion and related irritants that might otherwise detract from the quality of life of local residents; necessary adjustments would have to be made to adjacent water surface areas; the facility would have to remain fully operationally capable; and the Marine Corps KC-130 squadron would have to be relocated to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. It was said that MCAS Futenma could be returned upon completion of conditions and necessary procedures for return in JFY2022 or later.

On 3 October 2013, a Joint Statement by the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee (SCC) noted that US and Japanese Ministers confirmed that the plan to construct the FRF at Camp Schwab-Henokosaki area and adjacent waters was the only solution that addressed operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns and avoided the continued use of MCAS Futenma. The SCC members reaffirmed the strong commitment of both Governments to the plan and underscored their determination to achieve its completion, which would permit the long-desired return of MCAS Futenma to Japan. The United States welcomed recent developments including the submission of the request for approval of public water reclamation permit to Okinawa Prefecture by the Government of Japan in March 2013.

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