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Editorial: U.S. military should end its disregard for human life

A U.S. F-16 fighter jet based at the U.S. military’s Misawa Air Base (Misawa City, Aomori Prefecture) jettisoned two fuel tanks over Aomori Prefecture, its pilot saying he encountered an emergency during flight.


One of the tanks was found near the Fukaura town office, which was only about 20 meters away from private houses. The area has many houses and public facilities and is also close to a JR railway line.


Nevertheless, the U.S. military initially explained that it jettisoned the tanks over a “non-residential area.” It is highly debatable whether that is how they truly understood that to be the case.


It was by mere chance that there were no casualties. It would have been a disaster if the tanks had fell elsewhere. There has been a succession of accidents near residential areas in Okinawa and other prefectures across Japan. The U.S. military’s disregard for human life is unpardonable.


Aomori Gov. Mimura Shingo lodged a strong protest with the U.S. military, and the Ministry of Defense (MOD) requested the suspension of operations of F-16 fighters until their safety is confirmed.


We simply can’t treat the incident as being of no concern to us, because F-16 fighters from the Misawa base frequently fly over Hokkaido.


The U.S. military must suspend operations of all [F-16] fighters and immediately conduct a thorough inspection to determine the cause. 


There has been a succession of incidents involving the fuel tanks of F-16 fighters deployed to the Misawa base. In 2015, an F-16 fighter jet dumped its fuel tanks into the Sea of Japan and another F-16 fighter ditched its fuel tanks near a clam fishing boat on Lake Ogawara near the Misawa base in 2018.


There are obviously flaws in the structure of the jet and problems with its safety measures. 


The U.S. military reported the latest incident to the MOD more than three hours after it jettisoned the fuel tanks.


This indicates the U.S. military has a poor understanding of risk. We are growing more and more distrustful of the U.S. military.


F-16 fighters are not the only aircraft that have caused incidents. In Okinawa, a panel weighing about 1.8 kg fell from an Osprey transport aircraft in flight in August and a water bottle fell onto the premises of a residence last month.


Ospreys will be used during the Japan-U.S. joint drills that will be held at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Yausubetsu Training Area (straddling Betsukai and other towns in the Nemuro area) from Dec. 5. Their safety is cause for concern.


Every time a U.S. military aircraft has caused an accident the government has lodged a protest, and the U.S. has promised to prevent a recurrence. But the situation has not improved.


This may be partly attributable to the fact that investigations into the causes of accidents are left in the hands of the U.S. military due to the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA), which stipulates the privileged status of the U.S. military.


The Japanese and U.S. governments revised the guidelines based on the SOFA in 2019 and stipulated that Japan can promptly conduct onsite inspections when U.S. military aircraft are involved in accidents outside U.S. bases.


But the revision does not deprive the U.S. of its right to restrict investigations by Japan at its own discretion. In the latest incident, the U.S. military collected the wreckage of the fuel tanks and Aomori Airport, at which the U.S. military jet made an emergency landing, waited for the U.S.’s response. So the airport was forced to close its runway until the next day.


The [Japanese] government should request the U.S. to drastically review the SOFA.

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