“Flight restrictions are not as strict as those in Okinawa. We are conducting tactical low-altitude flight training.”
These words created a stir when they were posted last December on the official website of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni (located in Iwakuni City). The article reported that the Osprey operational units stationed in Okinawa were training in Iwakuni. That was the first the Iwakuni local residents had heard about Osprey flight training. The national government had said the flights to Iwakuni were “for maintenance work on the aircraft.”
Why did the U.S. military’s article and the national government’s explanation differ? When the Chugoku Shimbun inquired, the U.S. military said: “For safety reasons, we do not discuss the details of the flight routes.” Meanwhile, the national government said, “We do not know the exact routes or the training program content because they are part of the U.S. military’s operations.” Neither gave an in-depth explanation, and no more information was learned.
The U.S. military does not want to give out details on flight training and the status of aircraft operations. “We pay meticulous attention to the release of information about military facilities. We are not hiding information; we cannot release it,” said someone connected to the U.S. military.
The national government is also reluctant to release information involving the U.S. military. The Chugoku Shimbun asked the government to release various administrative documents related to the reorganization of U.S. forces stationed in Japan and the Iwakuni base. Most of them were either not released or were redacted.
For example, most of the content of the “Survey on the Transfer [of Aircraft] Related to the Reorganization” was redacted. The reason given was that releasing it “would undermine trust with the United States in the field of security.”
Iwakuni City also prioritizes trust with the base. For three consecutive days last December, the base conducted takeoffs and landings outside the runway’s hours of operation (6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.). The base had notified the city in advance as per the rules. The city did not promptly notify the people, though, because the U.S. military had requested them not to release the information in advance.
From the perspective of resident safety and peace of mind, it is very important that people living near the base know in advance about the late-night/early-morning takeoffs and landings by U.S. military planes. The reality is, though, that the frequency of information disclosure differs from base to base.
The municipalities in the area of the Kadena base in Okinawa are not notified by the U.S. military about after-hours operations. In contrast, Misawa City, Aomori Prefecture, which is home to the Misawa base, does disclose information in advance. A local agency of the national government releases the information by website, cable TV, and disaster prevention information e-mail services.
In some locations, information about after-hours operations is kept from residents, and in other locations it is released in advance with the participation of the national government. This difference is baffling.
From the end of May, the deck-landing carrier qualifications (CQ) training for pilots of carrier-borne aircraft was held off the coast of Kyushu and based at Iwakuni. This was the first time for the training to be held since the completion of the relocation of the carrier-borne aircraft to Iwakuni. At that time, the U.S. side permitted information about the after-hours usage to be released in advance, but it is not known if that will continue.
Even if information on after-hours use is acquired, whether it is released or not depends on what the U.S. military wants. Are there cases in which information that could be disclosed is not provided to residents? It is the residents who accept the burden of the base that are actually supporting “trust with the U.S. military.” The national and municipal governments should strongly urge the U.S. side to release information that residents need.