US Military Aircraft Trouble: Can We Only Request the Prevention of a Recurrence?

On the morning of Feb. 20, an engine fire broke out on an F-16 aircraft belonging to the U.S. Misawa Air Base (Aomori Prefecture) right after takeoff, and it dumped two fuel tanks in Ogawara Lake near the base. The aircraft immediately returned to the air base and landed.

The fuel tanks fell into the water about 400 meters (approximately 1,312 feet) from a boat that was fishing for clams. Even empty, the tanks weigh more than 200 kilograms (approximately 440 pounds). A local fisherman who was at the site said, “I was startled by the huge splash. Imagining being hit by one of those is no joke.”

The U.S. Air Force explained that the airmen confirmed there were no people around before dropping the tanks. It is standard procedure for the U.S. military to dispose of a fuel tank to prevent a fire or lighten an aircraft in the event of engine trouble.

However, was it possible to completely confirm that there were no people from the perspective of an aircraft in flight? It was fortunate that no one was injured, but it could be said that this was a serious accident that was capable of affecting human life.

There is strong anxiety concerning the frequency of the problems with U.S. aircraft in Japan. In December of last year, a window frame fell from a helicopter belonging to U.S. Air Station Futenma (Ginowan City, Okinawa Prefecture) onto the sports field of a nearby elementary school. Also, in January, three U.S. helicopter emergency landings occurred in Okinawa.

In order to deal with the Korean Peninsula situation and Chinese ocean advancement, U.S. military activity will increase and likely impose a heavy burden on the soldiers and maintenance systems. The U.S. military should treat the accidents as part of a structural problem and thoroughly investigate the cause.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he is strongly requesting that the U.S. prevent a recurrence. However, the current situation is such that we can do no more than plead with the U.S. military because Japan does not hold the power to enforce measures such as investigations or flight suspensions. There is a problem with the security system that is now public, and the Japanese government does not have the ability to secure the safety of its citizens.

This time the accident was on the mainland, but we must not forget that accidents involving the U.S. military occur frequently in Okinawa where the U.S. bases are concentrated. The citizens on the mainland should also be sharing the anxiety and worry of Okinawa citizens involved with the bases.

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