Iwo Jima is one of the most iconic places of the Second World War – site to one of the biggest military battles between Japan’s Imperial Army and the United States forces this side of the Pacific. To this day, the volcanic island’s lone functioning airstrip – one of the assets protected and attacked by both sides in WWII – serves as a training site for U.S. Navy aircraft pilots who are being prepped for carrier deployment. But the safety of the island as a training venue is being called into question.
The famous island – uninhabited now except for military troops from U.S. and Japan who regularly do training here – is remote in such a way that if a plane finds itself in an emergency and for some reason that lone airstrip on the island isn’t available, the only alternative is to eject and ditch the plane in the Pacific. This has become a problem now for U.S. Navy jets whose pilots are currently being trained for active deployment on the carrier USS George Washington. As per both countries’ agreements, Japan is responsible for providing locations for all U.S. bases within Japanese territory. So far, the dilemma for the U.S. Navy is that Japan has failed to suggest a more suitable site. Capt. Dennis Mikeska, the assistant chief of staff for operations, planning and operations for the U.S. Naval Forces, Japan, said that the Iwo Jima airstrip is the only place that they conduct crucial carrier landing practice without a viable emergency “divert” location. Capt. Mikeska said that so far, they have not lost any planes yet on Iwo Jima, but added, “That’s not to say there haven’t been any close calls.”
The Navy’s problem is exacerbated by the same issue that the Japanese government faces when dealing with the U.S. forces in Japan – even though both countries are very strong allies, it is virtually impossible to find a city, town or village that will accept having U.S. troops based in their area. This sentiment is very much evident in Okinawa, which hosts around 25,000 U.S. troops. Apart from the cultural and crime issues that invariably come up with having U.S. bases – and the accompanying slew of U.S. military service personnel – nearby, safety issues that arise from the crashes of U.S. aircraft also arise, putting to risk the local Japanese population. Plans to simply deploy the Marine Corps’ new transport aircraft, the MV-22 Osprey, have sent tens of thousands of Okinawans to the streets in protest. Also this week, the suggestion by the mayor of Okinawa that the U.S. should use a small suburban airfield there was met with immediate outcry. The recent incident of a U.S. F-15 fighter aircraft crashing near Okinawa will not have helped the situation of calming the locals’ fears, and so it may take a while for the government to find a suitable replacement for Iwo Jima as a training site for the U.S. Navy.
[via The Republic]