(Sentaku: July 2015 – pp. 100-101)
Despite the worsening conflict between the Abe administration and Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga over the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to Henoko, Nago City on the surface, the real motives of the parties involved are not actually what they appear to be.
The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) envisions using the new Henoko facility as a base eventually. Okinawa is actually strongly against the return of the Futenma base because the military landowners are not willing to give up the lucrative lease payments from the Japanese government. On the other hand, the U.S. government is beginning to worry that forward deployment of U.S. forces in Okinawa may actually become a fatal vulnerability in its confrontation with China.
A senior SDF officer observes that, “The U.S. military is anticipating substantial withdrawal from Okinawa in the future, but they are just not giving up the bases as their vested interest.”
The most critical bases for the U.S. forces are actually the Yokosuka naval base, where the main force of the Seventh Fleet is stationed, and the Kadena Air Base (KAB) in Okinawa.
A U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) source explains that the covert role of the Futenma base is to “support the KAB in an emergency. Futenma will back up the KAB if the transport aircraft and fighters deployed exceed the KAB’s capacity or when the KAB is attacked.”
While the KAB has two 3,700-meter runways and the Futenma base, a 2,800-meter runway, the new Henoko facility will have two 1,800-meter V-shaped runways, which will not be able to land strategic transport planes and other large aircraft. Therefore, the Futenma base is actually still the best option for the U.S. forces, even though it has accepted the Henoko relocation plan out of concern that an Osprey accident may trigger public opinion in favor of total USFJ withdrawal. The fact that the Japanese government has spent an enormous amount of money for the U.S.’s renovation of the Futenma base since 2013, expected to be completed by 2020, is proof of the U.S.’s intent to continue using the Futenma base if the replacement facility is not built in Henoko.
Apparently, the U.S.’s basing strategy is to stay put in Futenma while stepping up the dispersion of forces to Hawaii, Guam, Darwin, Australia, and elsewhere in response to China’s rapid military expansion. The U.S. forces will move to Henoko if the replacement facility is completed but it will still secure the right to use the Futenma base site in a contingency.
The USFJ is scheming to hold on to its right to use the Futenma base, as well as host nation support from Japan amounting to almost 200 billion yen each year that comes with it, fully aware that Okinawans are predominantly against the return of the Futenma base because of the 25 billion yen in lease payments that it earns for the landowners annually.
Meanwhile, the Ground SDF is eyeing taking over the new Henoko base in the future in light of the planned expansion of SDF deployment in Okinawa for the defense of the Southwest or for island defense. It plans to use the Henoko facility as a GSDF base but will allow the U.S. forces to use the base in an emergency.
The media have been commenting on the Henoko relocation issue without even knowing the complex clash of interests among the USFJ, Okinawa, and the SDF beneath the surface. That is why the people remain ignorant about the crux of the Futenma relocation issue. (Summary)