U.S. Marine Corp has intensified its training in Okinawa in preparation for combat

U.S. Marine Corp has intensified its training in Okinawa in preparation for combat

The number of occurrences of aircraft noise at Ue Ojana district, Ginowan City.


September 10, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

Ten years have passed since the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Taking the lead in the war against the terrorism, the United States plunged itself into war in Iraq and Afghanistan, sending units to the battle areas from their bases in Okinawa. During this time, in preparation for combat in the Middle East, the Marine Corps has intensified its training of its personnel in Okinawa, and this has led to accidents and incidents involving the military, including when a helicopter due to be deployed in Iraq crashed onto Okinawa International University. Okinawa has clearly been affected by the war in the Middle East. In this article, we take a look at what has been changed by 9/11 on this military island and what the prospects are for the future.

Movements in Okinawa and Japan since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. (click to enlarge)

In the period since the terrorist attacks on the United States, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, including the helicopter squadron of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, has been incorporated in the mop-up operations in the Middle East under the banner of “the war on terrorism.” In August 2004, a helicopter that had landed at Futenma Air Station before being deployed as part of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” crashed onto Okinawa International University. The Government of Japan has effectively given silent approval of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa without seeking to verify the nature of any overseas deployment and now they have approved the deployment to Futenma next fall of MV-22 Osprey vertical take-off aircraft, with the risks it brings. Despite the difficulties involved or the risks to the local residents, the nature of the air station has not changed and the United States still uses it however it sees fit.

Since 9/11, the number of flights from other bases to Futenma Air Station has increased, and as a result, the level of noise pollution in the residential area around the air station has become worse. In 2002 and 2003, in the Ue Ojana district, Ginowan City, aviation noise lasting more than five seconds at least 70db was recorded 30000 times. This figure is more than 1.5 times the number for an average year in the same area. The increased level of training has also led to more accidents and emergency landings of aircraft, with ten cases officially announced for the period from 2001 to 2003.

The number of airplanes assigned to Futenma has gone down from 71 to 52 since the outbreak of war in Iraq. The number of CH-46 helicopters is unchanged, and the number of CH-53E, AH-1 and UH-1 helicopters has been drastically reduced, but the issue of noise pollution is yet to improve with over 25000 occurrences of aviation noise recorded at Ue Ojana last year. The Base Affairs Policy Division of Ginowan City speculates that repeated takeoffs and landings of a small number of aircraft is the cause of the noise pollution, despite the reduced number of aircraft. A group of five helicopters were confirmed as having flown over the residential area to the north of the runway in May of this year.

Shigeo Yamauchi, the head of the Base Affairs Policy Division of Ginowan City, said, “We residents have been viewed as an unimportant part of the equation by the United States and those running its military operations. Japanese government officials have not complained to them, and the U.S. military interprets this as meaning that they are allowed to do anything they like.” He also stated, “The U.S. military has failed to observe standard operating procedure or the accepted rules, such as noise control measures, environmental principles and traffic patterns for their flights. The Japanese government should ascertain the details of the movement of U.S. forces and point out the problems to them.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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