Symposium INDEX

Japan Peace Conference 2003 International Symposium
Special Report


Nakamura Shigeichi


Okinawa and military bases

I would like to extend my hearty welcome to Okinawa friends from throughout Japan and from overseas. I would like to report on military bases in Okinawa.
In Okinawa, there are 38 U.S. military facilities and bases. They are garrisoned by about 25,000 U.S. military personnel. In addition there are 24,000 civilian workers and their family members. Together with the 27 bases/facilities jointly used with the Japanese Self Defense Forces, there are 65 U.S. military bases all together, and they are located at 52 cities and towns of Okinawa.
Let me give you some good examples to show you the abnormally unique situation Okinawa is under. 86 % of Kadena City is occupied by U.S air forces and ammunition depots. 33.7 % of Ginowan City is taken by the Marines and their airports. And these sit at the center of the city. The area between the Ginowan U.S. Air Base and the Futemma Air Base, distance of about a 15-minutes drive, is also completely taken up by military bases. It is as if the entire island of Okinawa were a gigantic unsinkable aircraft carrier.
This has been the situation for the last 60 years, during which the U.S. used our island as a sortie base to wage war of aggression: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War. For example, F15 fighter jets stationed at the Kadena Base have been assigned for the surveillance of the southern Iraq from 1991. Also Kadenaユs aerial-fueling squadron has joined the Iraq war. Kadenaユs KC 135s fuel bombers and transport aircrafts from the U.S. mainland and Alaska so that the bombers could head to the Middle East non-stop.
In November 2002, when the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, James G. Roche visited Okinawa, he emphasized the importance of the Kadenaユs aerial-fueling as メthe bridge of movementモ. Also, the bases in Okinawa play an important role in the U.S. Middle East strategy.
The surveillance from the Kadena Base is usually done in pairs, one electric reconnaissance aircraft, RC 135 and one early-warning aircraft, E-3. But since last March, ballistic missile observation airplanes, Cobra Balls, have joined the surveillance. Though one of them was メlocked onモ by a North Korean MiG 29 for provocation, 5 Cobra Balls continue its operation against other countries, including China, North Korea and Iran. EP-3s, electronic surveillance aircraft, of the U.S. Navy are also stationed at the base. EP-3 is the plane that collided with a Chinese military aircraft when it invaded Chinaユs territory in 2002. Since September last year (2003), another type of reconnaissance aircrafts, U2s are temporarily moved to Kadena from South Korea. There are currently four U2s at the base.
F16 fighter jets, MH 47 special operation helicopters now come to Okinawa more often not only from the U.S. mainland, but also from other U.S. bases in Japan such as the Iwakuni and the Misawa and bases in South Korea. They are conducting drill after drill in preparation for real war. It is under such circumstance that a number of serious accidents are taking place, including an F-15 fighter jet crash, falling of windshield glass and leak of fuel to civilian properties from a flying C-2 transportation aircraft, which belongs to an aircraft carrier. A major accident involving civilian casualties could happen any time.
Okinawa is geographically convenient in conducting military training with United Statesユ Asian counterparts, including armed forces of Thailand and the Philippines. In the past year, U.S. forces in Okinawa conducted メCobra Goldモ, メCaratモ and others joint trainings, as much as 70 times. The trainings are being expanded in scale and becoming more war-like to adapt to メwar on terrorism.モ
Recently, the U.S. Congressional Research Service issued a study report on the safety of U.S. military aircrafts. The report states that the wars that have been wage in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks have led U.S. armed forces to intensify their exercises, and that this may be the cause of the increase in aircraft accidents. We feel this is indeed true from our observation of the Kadena Base. We spot much more F-15 jets sitting by the airstrips because of trouble and failure.
Right next to Kadena is a huge ammunition depot district, the largest in Asia. It consists of about 500 facilities, which can store more than 5 tons of ammunition for its forward deployed forces across the Pacific. In February 2002, we observed cluster bombs and bombs we believe to be Daisy Cutters being transported from the depot. Daisy Cutters are enormously destructive weapons that burn down few hundred meters of area to ashes. It is very likely that these bombs were loaded on B-52 and B-1 bombers to be used in Iraq. In addition, we cannot deny the existence of tactical nuclear weapons there. This is likely from the U.S. strategic point of view.
The use of depleted uranium shells has become an issue of great concern. Their massive use in Iraq has also caused cancers among a number of U.S. soldiers. The DU shells are stored at the Kadena Base. Back in 1995, fighter jets, Harriers shot 1,520 DU shells into an island of 10,000 in population, Torishima メby mistake.モ So far the U.S. has only recovered 247 of them, and the whereabouts of the rest of the shells is still unknown. The people of the Island are rightly demanding medical checkups and the continuation of the recovery efforts, but neither has been realized because of the Japanese governmentユs insistence that depleted uranium do no harm to human health.
In 2000, some hundreds of used DU shells were found at an industrial waste disposal facility. They had been thrown out by U.S. armed forces. We have not been informed when and where these shells were used. We have not heard that DU shells have been removed from the ammunition area.
The White Beach is a very important port for the U.S. 7th Fleet, where its nuclear-submarines call in. The number of such submarinesユ call-in to the White Beach is on the rise: from 10 times in 2000, to 12 in 2001 and 17 in 2002. The beach is naturally adjacent to sea areas where local fishermen work. On the areas, large-size helicopters, CH-53s conduct super-low-flight training, plunging themselves into a supposed メcombat zoneモ, and soldiers decent in a jump sack with a rubber boat from transportation aircrafts. They have no concern for damages such dangerous actions could cause to the locals.
In August last year (2003), 2 helicopter gun ships (AH-1W) came near a Taiwanese luxury liner, Super Star JEMINI off the White Beach. They were monitoring the liner for few minutes in what could be taken as intimidation. The liner was passing by U.S. maritime prepositioning ships (MPS) loaded with a large amount of weapons and munitions.
In Iejima, an islet of 22 km around is their another ground of fierce exercise. Helicopter CH-53s in a three-formation approach to the island skimming the surface of the sea. From MC 130 special operation aircrafts, 20 member-Green Berets parachute down on the island. Harrier fighting jets repeat their touch-and-go drills with explosive sound roaring.
Recently the Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) joined the Assault Landing Unit, which is led by Essex. The ESG includes Aegis ships loaded with cruse missiles, Tomahawks. This means that the Marines 3rd Expeditionary Unit that always acts with the Assault Landing Unit is reinforced as the preemptive strike force. According U.S. bases in Okinawa are being reinforced.
Now the U.S. is proceeding with its plan to build 2 gigantic bases in Okinawa: a state-of-the-art floating base off the coast of Nago for the Marines; and a port for the Navy at Urasoe, next to the 3-km-long and 1-km-width Makiminato Supply Commissariat. If the plan goes as it is, it is no doubt that larger vessels, including the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk will call-in or berth at the Urasoe base and that it will be made to a de fact home port of nuclear submarines and the 7th Fleet.
The new bases means destruction of Okinawaユs coral reefs and other natural environment and making the island a perpetual military stronghold of the United States. They mean yet another human and financial sacrifice on the part of Okinawan people.
Ant this is not the end of their plan. At Camp Hansen, communication facility メElephant Gateモ now at Sobe Communication Site will be relocated and various facilities for メanti-terrorismモ exercises, including life-shell exercises, will be built for special units and the Marines. Under the national road that runs by the U.S. headquarters in Okinawa will be built a huge tunnel that will connect bases at a cost of some 2 billion yen (approx. U.S. $20 million). There is also a plan to build houses for U.S. military personnel, including multi-story apartment buildings at a coast of 9 billion yen. All of these projects will be paid by the Japanese government.
The year 2002 was especially noisy and dangerous year for the people of communities close to the Futemma Air Base. The average number of the noise (more than 120dB)* caused by U.S. aircrafts per day were 3 times the year before**: there were more emergency landings of aircrafts and accidental fallings of materials from them onto the communities; and there was an incident where heavy machine guns were shot into a plant field. In total, there were 105 cases of accidents caused by the U.S. forces in Okinawa, including 60 cases of accidents by their aircrafts. The number of arrests of U.S. personnel by the Japanese police was also high up to 81 cases. The total number of such arrests since the reversion of Okinawa to Japan is 5,157.
(*120 dB is what you hear when you are close to a working aircraft engine. 70dB: a phone ring. 100dB: under the railroad bridge when a train is passing.)
(** 77.3 times in 2002 compared to 24.6 times in 2001.)
Environmental destruction is another issue of grave concern. It includes the PCB soil pollution and the outflow of red clay earth into the seas caused by construction of military facilities. In Chatan Town a large amount of oil drums filled with waste oil were found at a former U.S. base, which has been returned to the town. But since メthe U.S. is not responsible for restoring the site its original stateモ under the Status of Forces Agreement, it is the Japanese that is doing and paying for the waste disposal.
Japan should put an immediate end to such extraordinary relation with the U.S. and the bases should be withdrawn without condition. The Okinawan peopleユs power in 1995 moved the Japanese public to a point where a majority of the Japanese people was in favor of ending the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, and this in turn compelled the U.S. and the Japanese governments to hold talks in a bid to mitigate the peopleユs rage against the continued presence of the U.S. military. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, 90 % percent of the people of Okinawa was against it and we saw unprecedented scale of anti-war actions took place across the globe. The heart of Okinawans longing for peace is merging with the global anti-war movements. It will someday be a force powerful enough to free Okinawa from military bases.
When a government of peace-loving people is build in the United States, the country will be able to live in an international community with mutual trust with others. And this will be a great contribution for world peace.
Nakamura Shigeichi, Member of Chatan Town Assembly/Board of Directors, Okinawa Peace Committee.