MCAS Futenma, Okinawa. Creative Commons photo, Flickr user Hyougushi.

The Japanese government is reportedly looking at re-basing the U.S. Marine Corps air base at Futenma, Okinawa. Several places are under consideration. On Kyushu, the Hijudai Maneuver Area; on Honshu, Kita Fuji and Higashi Fuji training grounds, and Ojojihara Maneuver Area; on Hokkaido, Yausubetsu Maneuver Area.

The proposal to relocate some training functions of the Futenma station’s helicopter unit aims to help reduce the burden that hosting U.S. military bases places on residents of the prefecture.

Government sources familiar with the matter made the disclosure Thursday.

The transfer of the Futenma functions–which if effected would be the first of its kind–would do much to reduce the hazards posed by the Futenma facility, which is located in a densely populated area, the sources said.

Under consideration as candidate sites for the transfer are a number of Ground Self-Defense Force training areas in Honshu, Kyushu and Hokkaido, according to the sources. (Link w/map)

The basing situation for the U.S. Marine Corps on Okinawa is idea because it combines barracks for ground forces, airfields for fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and embarkation facilities for amphibious transports all on one small island. Great for the Marines…not so great for the Okinawans.

Any plan that moves Marine aviation several hundred miles away from Marine ground forces fragments the force. The Marine Corps is an integrated air-land-sea force, and splitting up the force makes it much less effective. Shifting Futenma’s aircraft and helicopters north to Kyushu moves them several hundred miles from the forces they’re meant to support. Shift them even farther north to Honshu and you’re talking 1,000 miles. Yausubetsu on Hokkaido? Even farther, at 1,600 miles.

In American geographical terms,  it would be as though the infantry were based in Key West, the helicopters were based in Washington D.C., and the live-firing range would be in Portland, Maine. Does that make any sense?

This blog’s position is that the best solution to the Marine Corps Okinawa base situation is to remove Marine Corps forces from Okinawa, and to add a permanent Amphibious Ready Group presence to the Western Pacific, a joint U.S. – Japanese task force stocked with American and Japanese ships, and American (and possibly) Japanese marines. To paraphrase an old saying, a bird in the hand is worth two in Okinawa and Honshu.

Right: typical Amphibious Ready Group. Picture via GlobalSecurity.org.

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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