Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stars and Stripes Over Empire

Commander: US military can’t conduct amphibious operations in the Pacific

Stars and Stripes
Published: March 25, 2014

WASHINGTON — The Navy and Marines do not have enough assets to carry out a contested amphibious operation in the Pacific if a crisis arises, the top commander of U.S. forces in the region told lawmakers Tuesday.
As the war in Afghanistan winds down, Marine Corps leaders want the service to return to its roots of being a force that can attack enemies from the sea, as the Marines did frequently during World War II. But Adm. Samuel Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the capability does not presently exist in his area of responsibility.

“We have had a good return of our Marines back to the Asia-Pacific, particularly as the activities in the Middle East wind down in Afghanistan … But the reality is, is that to get Marines around effectively, they require all types of lift. They require the big amphibious ships, but they also require connectors (meaning landing craft landing craft and other amphibious vehicles). The lift is the enabler that makes that happen, so we wouldn’t be able to [successfully carry out a contested amphibious assault without additional resources].”
His remarks come at a time when there are growing concerns in Japan and elsewhere that China might try occupy the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islands are under Japanese administrative control, but China has claimed sovereignty over them. The Obama administration has said that the Senkakus fall under America’s defense treaty with Japan, which would require the U.S. military to come to the aid of Japan in the event of an attack on Japanese territory by China or any other country. Last year, the Marines and Japanese Self-Defense Forces conducted a large-scale amphibious warfare training exercise off San Clemente Island, Calif.
There are four amphibious ready groups in San Diego and one in Sasebo, Japan. Locklear said he has requested additional amphibious lift capabilities from the Pentagon, and that request is under consideration, he told members of Congress.
Locklear partly blamed global force requirements for the problem.
“I’m not the only combatant commander that desires amphibious shipping or the Marines that are on them. So there is a global competition among us as the world situation kind of moves around. [And] the global demand signal today is … greater than what we can resource,” he said.
He told lawmakers he sometimes must send amphibious forces that he has trained and maintained to commanders in the Middle East and Europe. Going forward, he believes that the Pacific should be given highest priority when it comes to amphibious capabilities.
“In the Pacific though, it is my view that as the Marines come back that we should optimize the capability of the Marines in the — particularly in the area west of the [international] dateline. And to do that we have to have adequate amphibious lift,” he said.
During the same hearing, Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of U.N. and U.S. forces in Korea, raised doubts about his ability to effectively counter a large-scale North Korean attack.
“I am concerned about the readiness of the follow-on forces in our theater. Given the indications and warnings and the nature of this theater and the threat that we face, I rely on rapid and ready forces to flow into the peninsula in crisis.”
Scaparrotti agreed with the statement that low readiness among forces stationed outside Korea would cause a delay in the buildup of combat power, allow the enemy more time to build his defenses, and likely prolong combat operations and lead to more American casualties in the event of a Korea contingency.


Re-elected Okinawa mayor vows to fight Futenma relocation

Stars and Stripes
Published: January 19, 2014

NAGO, Okinawa — Voters re-elected a Nago mayor Sunday who vowed to derail a recently approved U.S.-Japan plan to relocate Okinawa’s controversial Marine Corps Air Station into his city.
Susumu Inamine campaigned on the anti-base platform and beat out a candidate supported by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s political party in a local election that was widely seen as a referendum on the U.S.-Japan military realignment plan.
The election is likely to complicate or even stymie upcoming construction work on offshore runways needed to move Futenma air operations out of urban Ginowan city to a replacement base at the Camp Schwab Marine base in Nago.
The potential setback comes less than a month after Tokyo and Washington celebrated the long-awaited approval of runway reclamation permits by Okinawa prefecture after nearly two decades of planning, political friction and frustration over delays.
“The result of the election was a clear voice of the voters, who do not wish to have any additional military base,” said Inamine, who garnered 19,839 votes to 15,684 with 77 percent turnout. “I am resolved to use every possible means as the mayor to stop the landfill work.”
Earlier this month, Inamine said he may withhold the use of a city-administrated fishing port facility that is planned to be used as construction storage site or bar traffic by large vehicles such as heavy trucks and dump cars on city roads.
His election may also energize the island’s protest movement, which has held opposition vigils and attempted to block work at other U.S. military sites.
The Japan Ministry of Defense plans to complete construction work on the new Marine Corps airfield in Nago no earlier than 2019, according to recently filed construction documents.
The Nago election is an indication of the deeply complex political situation the U.S. and Japan face while trying to realign the large concentration of American military forces in the small southernmost prefecture.
The two allies formally agreed to move Futenma north to a sparsely populated bay in Nago in 2006 after years of anger and concerns from Okinawans over potential aircraft crashes and servicemember crime. Those tensions increased in 2012 with the deployment of the first squadron of Marine Corps’ hybrid MV-22 Osprey aircraft to Futenma.
Many Okinawans have balked at the relocation of the base and called for the Marine air operations to be removed from the island all together.
The opposition held progress at bay until Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima signed off on the construction permits in late December.
The governor’s decision sparked outcry. A group of residents filed suit this month that seeks to stop the base project, claiming construction will damage the coastal environment.


Okinawa governor signs off on long-delayed Futenma relocation

Stars and Stripes
Published: December 27, 2013

NAHA, Okinawa — On Friday, Okinawa’s governor approved the start of construction for a long-delayed air base to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a controversial move with broad implications for the U.S. military’s Pacific realignment.

Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima signed off on landfill work that will allow a new runway to be built in Okinawa’s Henoko district, despite strong opposition on the island of 1.4 million people. Many wanted the base, which houses Marine MV-22 Ospreys and other aviation assets, moved off the island entirely.

The U.S. and Japanese national governments have been trying to move the plan forward since 1996. When it stalled, a 2006 agreement was meant to push it along; however, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s opposition in 2009, combined with lingering local opposition, further delayed the plan.
Nakaima told reporters the landfill plan met all legal and environmental standards. The governor met Wednesday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – a supporter of the new base -- and said he left believing the current government is more committed than past administrations to easing Okinawa’s defense burden.

“Prime Minister Abe promised me that his government would work to meet our request to halt operations at Futenma air station within five years,” Nakaima said.

However, it remains uncertain whether the Henoko property would be ready that quickly to assume the operations currently carried out at Futenma.

A similar project headed by the Japanese government at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, near Hiroshima, reclaimed land for a new off-shore U.S. military runway. That project — now the largest heavy-lift runway in the region — hit numerous delays and took 13 years to complete.
A senior U.S. defense official said the timetable for the cessation of operations at Futenma will ultimately be decided by Tokyo.

“We will move to the Futenma Replacement Facility when it’s fully operational. The estimated date that we have for that in our consolidation plan released in April is 2022,” the official said on condition of anonymity during a conference call with reporters on Friday. “However, this is a facility that depends entirely on the government of Japan’s construction efforts … If the government of Japan is able to accelerate the construction and to move that date up, we’ll be quite happy to move to the facility and begin operations there.”

Nakaima also said he welcomed the decision to allow Japanese officials on to U.S. bases prior to their turnover for environmental and cultural surveys, which had been a point of contention.

“Regardless of the sentiment of Okinawan people on military presence, the tension of international situations has been increasing in recent days, and Okinawa must play a certain role,” he said. “However, Okinawa has been shouldering an unfairly heavy burden.”

Okinawa houses slightly more than 50 percent of all U.S. forces in Japan. The island is considered strategically critical because of its proximity to Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and the Korean peninsula.
MCAS Futenma, once located in a rural setting, is now in the center of densely populated Ginowan. In 2004, a Marine helicopter crashed in the area. Although no one on the ground was hurt, it prompted fears among locals of a potential disaster.

The U.S. praised Nakaima’s decision as a major step forward in the ongoing effort to reposition American forces in the region.

“I welcome the governor of Okinawa's decision to approve the landfill permit request to build the Futenma Replacement Facility at Camp Schwab-Henoko Bay, which is a critical part of the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa,” U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Friday. “The realignment effort is absolutely critical to the United States' ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and our ability to maintain a geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable force posture in the region.”

The anonymous senior U.S. defense official described the move to the Futenma Replacement Facility as “the spine of the rebalance.”

The planned base in less-populated Henoko is part of a Pacific realignment plan that will move almost 9,000 Marines, and their families, off Okinawa.

The resulting shift would greatly increase the U.S. military presence on Guam, where residents remain generally supportive of the relocation.

Although Nakaima’s decision brings that shift closer to reality, several hundred protesters gathered at Okinawa’s prefectural government building to denounce the move.

“The governor has sold the soul of Okinawa to Tokyo for money,” said Takeo Taira, 75, of Naha. “We are resolved to continue to fight to stop construction of a new base.”

Yoko Yamaguchi, of Nago, said the opposition to the move would never give up.

“I don’t know what fights will be ahead of us, but we are committed to never allow the spoiling of the precious waters of Henoko, and hand down a military base, a negative legacy, to our next generations,” she said.

Nakaima’s support for the plan represents a shift back to his original position.

Although he supported the Henoko plan when U.S. and Japanese officials crafted it in 2006, Nakaima called for the base to be moved entirely off Okinawa in 2010, when he won a close re-election race.
Nakaima said in 2010 that opposition shown by the city of Nago, which includes Henoko, made the plan unworkable. Nago will hold elections in January, and many expect that newly elected officials will be amenable to the Henoko plan.

Meanwhile, current Henoko district mayor, Munekatsu Kayo, said Nakaima’s decision could intensify protest activities in his community.

Kayo said he feared more noise and possibly violence. Others have suggested the protesters might attempt to physically block construction.

“I am gravely concerned about any situation where our residents would fall victim to such activities,” he said.

Under Japanese law, Okinawa’s prefectural government must approve land reclamation work — even by the central government — before it can proceed.

The Ministry of Defense asked Okinawa’s permission to reclaim about 395 acres of land to build runways in a V-shape off the tip of the Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab.

The five-year reclamation project at Oura Bay will require about 4.7 billion gallons of soil, which the ministry plans to buy from a contractor, according to the Okinawa Defense Bureau.

The U.S. defense official said the granting of the landfill permit will have important implications for the U.S.-Japan relationship beyond just the Okinawa realignment.

“It opens up the bandwidth in senior level both in Tokyo and Washington leaders for other issues to be discussed. You know, you’d see this issue -- we’d spend a lot of time on it at very senior levels of government,” the official said. “One of the most precious commodities in Washington is the time, attention and energy of senior policymakers, and this issue gobbled up a lot of that scarce resources. So … there will be much more bandwidth for other issues,” such as the ongoing revision of U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines and the review of roles, mission and capabilities of the two countries within the context of the alliance.
Twitter: @eslavin_stripes
Twitter: @JHarperStripes


Kennedy meets with Okinawa governor, praises momentum on Futenma relocation

By Travis J. Tritten
Stars and Stripes
Published: February 12, 2014
NAHA, Okinawa — U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy met with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Wednesday and said she hopes to maintain the recent momentum toward a new American military footprint on the island.

The ambassador avoided direct mention of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma during the meeting. But her first trip to Okinawa as ambassador this week was widely seen as a show of support for the governor, who in December approved the construction of a new U.S. airfield on the island to replace MCAS Futenma.

Kennedy is popular among the Japanese because of her father, the late President John F. Kennedy, and the visit raised hopes among U.S. base opponents that she may be swayed by their cause. Island newspapers directed editorials to Kennedy that recounted the island’s past under American occupation, and anti-military protests were held near the governor’s office in Naha.

But the U.S. has lauded Nakaima’s approval of the Futenma relocation. Military leaders say the decision will allow progress toward moving aircraft out of an urban area of Okinawa and shifting thousands more Marines to Guam, Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific.

As part of the recent progress on Okinawa, the ambassador said the U.S. and Japan began negotiations this week on reforming the 1950s-era environmental treaty guidelines that govern American forces in the country.

The U.S.-Japan status-of-forces agreement sets rules for American troops in Japan but does not require any U.S. cleanup of pollution when military base land is vacated.

Tokyo and Washington had promised to revisit the environmental rules when Nakaima was weighing whether to approve the Futenma transfer. The changes could allow Okinawa to perform assessments of military base land before it is vacated and returned to local control.

“I think it is very good the environmental negotiations are starting today while we are here,” Kennedy told Nakaima through a translator.

It was not their first meeting, and the two greeted each other warmly before trading signed baseballs. Kennedy also presented Nakaima with a framed copy of a visa request made by her father, who once came to the island for emergency medical care during a congressional trip to the Far East in 1951.
The congressman and future president was treated at an Army hospital on the island.

“They thought he might die, and his life was saved on Okinawa,” said Kennedy, who had the visa request sent from the president’s library in Boston.

The ambassador was also scheduled Wednesday to visit an Okinawa high school and Shuri castle, the seat of power for the bygone Ryukyu Kingdom.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten


Top Marine in Japan: If tasked, we could retake the Senkakus from China

by: Jon Harper
Stars and Stripes
published: April 11, 2014

WASHINGTON — If the Chinese invaded the Senkaku Islands, U.S. Marines in the Pacific could recapture them, the commander of Marines in Japan said Friday.

The Senkakus have been administered by Japan for decades, but China now claims sovereignty over them. Amid other heated territorial disputes with its neighbors, China has deployed naval assets near the Senkakus in recent months.

During his recent trip to Asia, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reiterated the U.S. position that the Senkakus fall under the scope of the U.S. defense treaty with Japan, and the U.S. would be obliged to come to the aid of its Japanese ally if the islands were attacked by a foreign power.

RELATED: More Stars and Stripes coverage of the Pacific pivot

Hagel’s comments came after Adm. Samuel Locklear III, the commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, told lawmakers last month that the Navy and Marines don’t have enough transportation assets in the region to carry out amphibious operations in a contested environment.

“If we were directed to take the Senkakus, could we? Yes. [But] to tell you how it would take place or would it take place or any of that would be pure speculation,” Lt. Gen. John Wissler, the commander of the III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Japan, said at a breakfast with defense reporters in Washington.

“They’re not real big,” he said. “I think sometimes people get this idea that the Senkakus look like the island of Okinawa or, you know, any of the other major islands. It’s a very, very small collection of small islands.”

Wissler suggested that U.S. naval and air assets could take out the Chinese forces on their own, and a forcible entry probably wouldn’t be required.

“You wouldn’t maybe even necessarily have to put somebody on that island until you had eliminated the threat, so to speak. And that’s where that whole integration of our full capabilities as a Navy-Marine Corps team would be of value,” he said.

Wissler, however, expressed concerns about the Army’s desire to contribute to the joint force in the Pacific by putting its attack helicopters on flat-deck ships. He said he isn’t opposed to the idea in principle, but he’s worried that the Army’s use of the ships will impinge upon the Marines.

“We, the Marine Corps, have no shortfall of capability of sea-based aviation,” he said. “[But] I’ve never been anywhere [in a combat area] where I’ve said, ‘[expletive], there’s too many guys here. I wish some of our capability would go away.’ So if the Army has a capability to bring in an amphibious environment, a capability that we need as a joint warfighting team, good on ’em. I just think there’s challenges to it … There aren’t enough amphibious ships for us to train to our mission right now. So how you jam a bunch of other guys on that platform is going to be [an issue that needs to be addressed]. We’ve got Marines who don’t get sufficient amphibious training, [and] we have a very big challenge for those [Marine aviation] units to get sufficient what we call deck-landing qualifications.”

He said the Army should also have concerns about the potential maintenance and readiness consequences of deploying its aviation assets at sea.
Twitter: @JHarperStripes


Guam ancestral land no longer top choice for Marine ranges

By Travis Tritten
Stars and Stripes
Published: September 11, 2013

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A stretch of Guam’s ancient ancestral land is no longer the Navy’s top choice for future military firing ranges on the island, the service’s Joint Guam Program Office said Thursday.

After years of studies, the Pagat coastal area has slipped down the list of potential training sites for about 4,700 Okinawa-based Marines who may be relocated to the territory in the coming years, according to JGPO Deputy Director Maj. Darren Alvarez.

The Navy and Guam stuck a deal in 2011 allowing gun and grenade ranges to be built on Pagat – which includes ancient indigenous Chamorro graves and archeological sites – despite public outcry and a lawsuit by citizens groups. Last year, the United States and Japan shifted plans for the Marine redeployment, and the Navy launched a new study that included other potential sites.

Now, an internal draft of that study points to Andersen Air Base as the best location on Guam for the ranges, though a final decision is not expected until 2015, Alvarez said.

Pagat remains on the list of possibilities for the training site, and the preferences in the ongoing study do not limit the Navy’s “final decision, nor does it limit the range of alternatives we will consider,” Alvarez wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes.

Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo touted the Navy announcement as a victory for the island Thursday, saying it meant Pagat had been “saved” from military development.

“First, we saved Pagat as we promised we would work toward. Second, the military is moving forward in the spirit of its four pillars, one of which was to reduce its footprint and the other to leave Pagat village and caves untouched,” Calvo said in a statement.

He also said the decision signaled that the long-discussed U.S. military buildup on Guam was moving forward after years of delays and uncertainty.

The tiny U.S. territory is already home to Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force base. Despite some environmental opposition, many on Guam see the transfer of Marines as another opportunity to boost the island’s isolated economy and have been waiting eagerly for signs of progress.

The Navy is required by federal law to complete comprehensive environmental evaluations before major development projects such as the training ranges and housing for the new Marines, work that began around 2010 and is slated to take years.

Still, the future of the effort remains in doubt. Congress has frozen nearly all spending on the Marine realignment for the past two years due to concerns over the planning and cost.

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