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Iwakuni: Local communities and the U.S. base – U.S. Forces the cause of confusing information

  • June 27, 2018
  • , Chugoku Shimbun , p. 3
  • JMH Translation

At the Iwakuni municipal assembly’s general interpellation on June 13, Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda stressed that his stance on the U.S. Forces’ Iwakuni base is that “change of base functions is unacceptable if the environment would deteriorate and fully adequate safety measures are not taken.” He said: “I will make sure that the military base benefits the development of the city’s administration in a realistic and positive manner.”

 

June 23 marked one year since Fukuda announced his acceptance of the relocation of 60 carrier-based aircraft to the Iwakuni base. The relocation process started in August last year and was completed by the end of March. The number of aircraft at the Iwakuni base has doubled to about 120, including the Marine aircraft originally stationed there. Iwakuni has become the largest air base in the Far East.

 

However, the transformation of this base is not finished. The U.S. Forces are planning to replace some of the existing aircraft with cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighters.

 

According to the 2018 Marine Aviation Plan released last January, the current aircraft at the Iwakuni base will be replaced in stages by 2031 and F-35s will make up around half of the Marines’ aircraft in Iwakuni. The U.S. Navy also told Chugoku Shimbun that it plans to replace some of its ship-based aircraft from 2021.

 

The F-35 will be the Air Self-Defense Force’s next mainstay fighter and it is also the symbol of the strengthening of the Japan-U.S. alliance. If this plan is carried out, Iwakuni will become a major F-35 base, bringing about a “qualitative” reinforcement of air combat capability.

 

A fire broke out on an F-35 fighter during a training flight in October 2016. At that time, Iwakuni City and Yamaguchi Prefecture had been undecided on accepting their deployment at the Iwakuni base. As of this date, the U.S. Forces and the national government have not given them a detailed briefing on the deployment plan for these state-of-the-art aircraft.

 

Looking back at the relocation process of the carrier-based aircraft, questions have been raised about the explanation given by the Tokyo government to the local governments. There was a major discrepancy between the relocation schedule announced by the government and the actual relocation of the aircraft. Completion of this process, originally scheduled for May, was advanced to the end of March.

 

The government and the U.S. Forces had even differed on when the relocation process started. The first batch of E-2D early warning aircraft were already operating out of the Iwakuni base from February to May 2017, when the local governments had not even decided on accepting the relocation. Responding to Chugoku Shimbun’s inquiry, U.S. Naval Forces Japan headquarters stated that “the E-2Ds were transferred to Iwakuni as of February 2017,” while the government regarded August, when they returned to Iwakuni, to be the “start of relocation.”

 

Apparently, this discrepancy in the relocation schedule was a result of the U.S. Forces’ giving priority to their operational requirements. However, the confusing information definitely points to lack of communication between the government and the U.S. Forces.

 

The government has the responsibility to convey information on the Iwakuni base to the local communities accurately and promptly. The confusion over the relocation process reflects Japan’s posture of blindly following the U.S. The local communities are now stricken by a sense of helplessness that there is no use talking to the national government, and this may become a factor aggravating the gap between the national and local governments.

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