Japanese Government Must Take a Strong Stance toward New US Military Facilities in Kadena

The U.S. government has rejected an alternate proposal put forth by the town of Kadena near the Air Force base to build a facility for removing rust from aircraft in the area where the base’s “Papa Loop” [Ed. note: a former aircraft parking lot] is located. The town demands the immediate withdrawal of the current plan to relocate the hangar and the cancellation of the cultural property survey that accompanies it.

There are concerns that the planned relocation site is close to a residential area, which could cause problems with noise pollution and odors from aircraft exhaust.

If the relocation continues as planned, there is a serious risk that the burden on residents will become permanent. The prefectural government is already taking the situation seriously and insists that the U.S. withdraw the plans. However, the Japanese government has taken a stance of “coordinating with the U.S. in a way that minimizes the impact on local communities.” This is a weak position to take. The Japanese government should prioritize the needs of the residents, towns and local prefectures by rejecting the relocation plan.

As of right now, the U.S. military plans to build two facilities. One would be for removing rust from aircraft and the other for repainting. Both facilities would be 100 feet high. There is an existing facility for removing rust on the north side of the runway on Kadena Air Base. But it is not big enough to accommodate large aircraft such as the Boeing E-3 Sentry and will be expanded and relocated to the Papa Loop area.

The town of Kadena presented an alternate plan to the U.S. military that would move the construction of the facilities to private land. However, the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base refused, saying that the current plan had already been decided upon.

This shows extreme disrespect for the residents of Kadena. At the latest, the military made this plan around April 2019. However, Japan was not notified until May 2022, more than three years later. The Papa Loop area is currently used as a tarmac for MC-130 special operations aircraft, creating noise and odor problems for locals. The U.S. military insists that this situation is only temporary, but this use of the area has already been extended beyond what was originally expected.

There used to be a naval tarmac on the east side of Papa Loop, but it was agreed that the tarmac would be relocated by the U.S.-Japan Special Action Committee on Okinawa in 1996. However, it took almost 20 years for this relocation to actually happen. Because of this, residents are concerned that new rust-prevention facilities would be more semi-permanent burdens on them.

The U.S. military’s outright rejection of the requests of residents, the town and the prefecture is nothing less than selfish. The Japanese government must not allow this. The government’s repeated line of seeking to “coordinate” with the U.S. does not align with the needs of the local residents.

At a town assembly in September, Kadena Mayor Hiroshi Toyama suggested creating an organization to immediately withdraw the base’s plan and hold a general meeting with residents. This reflects the sense among locals that the U.S. military will not budge if they don’t take extreme measures. The Japanese government needs to recognize this and prioritize its citizens. As the plan for the facilities gets underway, we have to wonder if there was ever any long-term significance to the 1996 SACO agreement. The Japanese government needs to be more than just a body to coordinate with the U.S. Instead, it should stand with local governments and take a strong stance for the sake of its citizens.

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