Japan is targeting an earlier return of the U.S. military’s Futenma air base in Okinawa Prefecture than the original “fiscal 2022 or later” schedule, and has already sliced the work period for a replacement facility, said Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera. The move seems to be an effort by the central government for Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima to approve the landfill work needed to relocate the Marine Corps base to the said prefecture.
Nakaima is set to make a decision on whether to authorize the landfill, and despite local criticisms has asked the central government to close Futenma operations in five years. Earlier agreement between the central government and Washington would have to be negotiated if they decide to change the original plan, as the government is estimating that construction of a replacement facility would take nine years. Nakaima has taken steps to help come up with his decision and has commanded a senior official to come up with “schedules for various scenarios, including one where the landfill is not authorized.” He has also taken into consideration other U.S. Marine’s Camp Kinser or the Makiminato Service Area and has requested that they be returned to Japanese control within seven years, along with a revision to the Status of Forces Agreement under the clause of U.S. military facilities operations in Japan.
None other than Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself has vowed to help shoulder Okinawa’s burden in hosting the bulk of the U.S. bases in Japan, while repeatedly encouraging the prefecture to accept the relocation plan, which will take a year to decide on the layout of the facility and an additional five years to build the runways on the landfill. An additional year will be needed before necessary equipments can be placed to make it operational before seeking Washington’s approval to use it as an air station.