MCAS Futenma.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has a new report out on the so-called American pivot to the Pacific, and aligning U.S. forces to support the pivot. It’s an interesting read, and spells out several strategic options for U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), including options that increase or decrease air, land, and sea power. (PDF here.)

With regards to the MCAS Futenma dilemma, the report lists three different proposed courses of action.

  • Kadena Integration: Marine functions at Futenma would be integrated into U.S. Air Force operations at Kadena Air Base;
  • Offshore Islands: Marine functions at Futenma would be relocated to an island with runway capacity in the general vicinity of the main island of Okinawa; examples include Iejima, Shimojijima, and Ishigaki;
  • Naha Second Runway: Marine functions at Futenma would be relocated to Naha Airport, currently shared by commercial aircraft and the Japan Air Self Defense Forces (JASDF), where the Okinawa Prefectural Government plans to build a second runway in the next five years with central government support; or
  • Remain at Futenma: The U.S. and Japanese governments would abandon the plan to construct the FRF and the Marines would continue operating out of Futenma.

An uninspired, unappetizing list of choices that range from the status quo to irritating the U.S. Air Force, to virtually militarizing and taking over small, already populated islands in the Ryukyu islands chain. (Seriously, CSIS — you want to drop 4,000 U.S. Marines on already inhabited 2 x 4, 4 x 5, and 6 x 6 square mile islands hundreds of miles at sea from Okinawa?)

Well, here’s a fourth proposed course of action, courtesy Japan Security Watch.

  • Preposition of Forces, Futenma: The United States and Japan buy enough fixed wing aircraft and helicopters to duplicate the Marine Corps air complement at Futenma. Redeploy the Futenma Marines back to the continental United States, where they will continue to train and operate. Leave a duplicate set of aircraft, maintenance equipment, and munitions at Futenma, where they would be maintained by a skeleton crew. In emergencies, personnel would fly back to Futenma, fall in on the prepositioned aircraft, and be mission-ready.

Is this feasible? Sure it is. At present roughly four thousand Marines are stationed at Futenma. The U.S. could easily transport 2,000 men a day from the U.S. to Okinawa. Everyone could be in place in two days.

The Marines have had similar arrangements and they’ve worked very well. Prepositioned sets of equipment have been maintained in Norway, Saipan and Guam, and the Indian Ocean.

Each side gets about 90% of what it wants. The United States gets to keep Futenma and not engage in a costly and time-consuming replacement effort. The Marine Corps gets unrestricted flight operations in the continental U.S. Marine personnel don’t have to relocate their families abroad. Local U.S. businesses near the base get an economic boost.

The Japanese government gets things, too. With flights in and around Futenma reduced by something like 95%, the Japanese government is off the hook with angry locals. The locals are happier, because they’ll see a 95% reduction in aircraft noise and a correspondingly lower probability of air accidents. And if the Americans are needed, they’re only two days away.

Not everyone gets everything. The Americans don’t get a full-time presence in Okinawa — but with only a two day delay that’s not even symbolically a big deal. Billets will have to be found for 4,000 troops and aircraft, but there are a number of air bases in Southern California that could be used, starting with Camp Pendleton. Native Okinawans still have that 5% of flight operations to be irritated/worried about. But that’s why they call it a compromise.

This proposal solves almost everything. Why isn’t this being considered?

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch