Can the Japanese Government Suspend US Military Drills at Naha Air Base?

Starting on Feb. 8, the U.S. Marines stationed at the Naha Air Base began conducting exercises there. For the citizens in the nearby urban areas, the large-scale drills, just a stone’s throw away from Naha Airport, are triggering great anxiety. The training should be suspended at once.

According to the Marines, 250 people from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is focused on humanitarian aid and civilian evacuations, are participating, and four types of aircraft, including Ospreys and large-scale CH-53 helicopters, as well as naval transport ships have been included in the exercises.

This marks the first time that the 31st MEU has performed such exercises at the Naha Air Base. From Feb. 9, the drills will be in full swing, and it could possibly be that they will extend even into late night and early morning hours.

At around 10:00 a.m. on the first day of the exercises, a CH-53 helicopter landed at the Naha Air Base, and camouflaged soldiers with weapons in hand alighted one by one. Barbed wire surrounded the facility’s buildings; from the side of the road, the figures of troops holding rifles at the ready were visible.

A citizens’ group protested the exercises from across the fence. An air of tension, calling to mind urban warfare, enveloped the area.

While the prefecture and the city of Naha demand the exercises be canceled, the drills are still being enforced. Neither the prefecture nor the city received prior notification or explanation from the U.S. military or the government.

It is written in the “5-15 Memorandum,” which establishes the requirements for military bases in Okinawa, that Naha Air Base’s intended use is as a “port facility and oil depot.”* However, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has stated that he believes that “training that is assumed to use the port” does not contradict the stipulations.

It is troubling to try to understand what actually would be considered a violation of the stipulations. If this training is considered acceptable, the result could be that any type of exercises would be permitted. It is clear that these exercises are outside the scope of intended use. Endlessly expanding the drills without regard for the sentiments of local residents will impose a new burden related to the base.

The last time the Naha Air Base had such vigorous use was back in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War. After that time, the most important port functionalities were shifted to Naval Base White Beach. The number of arrivals at the port had been decreasing since 1988, shifting to about 10 to 30 per year. Since 2003, the U.S. military has been concealing its actual usage of the facilities, without any official announcement.

The training exercises at the formerly idle Naha Air Base have caused strong anxiety for local residents. Training at such small-scale facilities near an urban area increases the risk of the exercises.

Before Ospreys were deployed in 2012, the U.S. military had shown training plans for 69 landing zones and the environmental effects. The Naha Air Base was not included in those plans.

It was not assumed that Osprey training drills would occur at Naha. Training facilities for functions such as civilian evacuation are also available inside and outside the prefecture. Is it necessary for exercises to take place at Naha Air Base, which is situated so close to an urban area?

In November of last year, when an Osprey arrived by air to Naha for transportation back to the U.S., the prefecture demanded that the base not be used for takeoffs and landings, because that would be outside the intended use of the base.

This time, there is strong concern that the Naha Air Base will be permanently used for training itself, not just transporting aircraft.

Can we assume that the training is for a possible crisis in Taiwan? If there is a crisis, there also would be the fear that Nansei Islands could become a battleground. Even so, the expansion and intensification of U.S. military exercises is completely unacceptable to local residents, who are bearing the brunt of the burdens from the base.

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

About this publication

About Dorothy Phoenix 104 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.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply