Canteen Dropped from US Military Aircraft: Use of Special Privileges Should Be Eliminated

Once again, fear has struck residents living near U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. On Nov. 23, a stainless steel canteen fell from an Osprey aircraft associated with the Futenma base onto a residential area of Nodake in Ginowan City. Memories are still fresh from incidents in 2017, in which pieces from helicopters fell onto Midorigaoka Nursery School and Daini Futenma Elementary School. Once again, our expectations that there would be preventive measures have been dashed. These incidents keep occurring because the U.S. military can freely use Okinawa air space. There should be a drastic revision of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, which allows these privileges.

There was water in the canteen, which appeared to be quite heavy. Ginowan City Councilor Iha Kazuo, after viewing security footage capturing the moment that the canteen fell, noted that “if it had hit a car, it would have penetrated through the roof.” Tragedy may have been averted, but what about the fears of citizens?

In the Midorigaoka Nursery School incident, the Okinawa prefectural police force’s investigation in which the U.S. military did not acknowledge responsibility for the object which fell, reached a dead end. However, even though this time the U.S. military has acknowledged the incident, we doubt there will be any criminal liability, pursuant to provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement which create liability exceptions for aviation. .

Even in this case, the U.S. military did not issue any official announcement. The object fell at around 6:40 p.m. Citizens became aware of the situation around 11 p.m. Okinawa police began an onsite inspection at 9:30 the next morning. Finally, after 10 hours, the Okinawa Defense Bureau, which had confirmed the incident with the U.S. military, reported the situation to the city.

The U.S. military conducted nighttime air exercises despite the incident and quietly resumed flights the next day. It is difficult to comprehend how the U.S. military has the nerve to refrain from providing any answers until prompted, despite knowing about an object that has fallen into a residential area. The U.S. military’s claim that it is a “good neighbor” rings hollow.

In addition, there has been a succession of unusual events at Naha Air Base involving Osprey and large-scale helicopter landings. On Nov. 24, four aircraft were loaded onto a ship for maintenance, which then set sail for home. The aircraft, which needed to be repaired and maintained in their home country, touched down at the densely populated seaport at Naha City. On Nov. 25, three more Ospreys landed. It is possible that the U.S. military is planning to routinely use Naha for takeoffs and landings.

A May 15 memo that outlined conditions under which the U.S. military was permitted to use facilities in Okinawa after it reverted back to Japanese control provides that Naha should be mainly used for “port facilities and [as] an oil depot.”* In response to the prefecture’s concern that U.S. military operations fall beyond allowable use, the Okinawa Defense Bureau justified the operations claiming that “landing aircraft is not excluded” from activities, and the May 15 memo merely stipulates the base’s main purpose.*

The backdrop to this situation is that the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement allows for unlimited travel between military bases. The safety and livelihood of the citizens come second. This arrangement is clearly illogical, but the latest canteen incident and aircraft operation at Naha once again bring the problem to the forefront. How long will the Japanese government allow such conditions to continue?

We must not wait to eliminate the risks at Futenma. In addition to stopping operations, we must immediately begin to drastically revise the Status of Forces Agreement. The U.S. military should be subject to Japanese aviation law, and limit flights as Germany and Italy do.

*Editor’s Note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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About Dorothy Phoenix 108 Articles
Dorothy is an independent video game developer, software engineer, technical writer, and tutor, with experience teaching students how to program and make games. In addition to programming and video games, Dorothy also enjoys studying Japanese language and culture. One of her goals is to exhibit a game at the Tokyo Game Show someday.

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