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Japan-US Forces pact a facade with restrictions on aircraft activity effectively ignored

In this Sept. 16, 2018 file photo, the U.S. Air Force's Kadena base is seen in Okinawa Prefecture. (Mainichi/Michiko Morizono)

In the surrounding areas of four U.S. military bases in Japan where Washington and Tokyo have signed agreements on aircraft noise abatement countermeasures, there were a total of 1,152 instances in fiscal 2019 when noise was confirmed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when the activities of the U.S. military are meant to be limited as a general rule, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    The Mainichi tallied the data based on information obtained from local municipal governments.

    The agreements include a clause that allows the U.S. military to engage in activity that it deems necessary for its operations, indicating that the restrictions have become a mere facade.

    The four military bases are Kadena Air Base spanning several municipalities in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, including the town of Kadena; U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the Okinawa Prefecture city of Ginowan; Yokota Air Base, which straddles the Tokyo suburb of Mizuho and other municipalities; and Naval Air Facility Atsugi, which straddles the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Yamato and other municipalities, and is used by both the U.S. Navy and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force's air unit.

    According to Okinawa and Kanagawa prefectures and the town of Mizuho, noise generated by aircraft late at night or in the early morning hours, was identified, at their most frequently detected sites, 765 times for Kadena, 288 times for Futenma, 64 times for Yokota, and 35 times for Atsugi. As for day-long noise at their most frequently detected sites, it was 20,670 instances for Kadena, 11,871 times for Futenma, 16,941 times for Yokota, and 13,099 times for Atsugi for a total of over 62,000 times.

    Under the agreements on aircraft noise countermeasures, flight and on-the-ground activity of aircraft between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. is restricted to those activities that are deemed necessary operations. Also under the agreement, jet engine tests are prohibited between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. unless it is unavoidable (At Yokota, tests are prohibited between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.). With the exception of Atsugi, the agreements stipulate that commanders must do their utmost to have flights completed as early as possible at night, but late-night and early-morning activity of aircraft have become a daily occurrence, including at Kadena, where noise was detected 765 times during restricted hours in a year.

    United States Forces Japan told the Mainichi in writing that the U.S. military is conducting drills under a security environment that is becoming increasingly complicated and grim, and that it respects and follows the agreements on aircraft noise countermeasures as agreed upon by the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee. The Mainichi also asked U.S. Forces Japan about the especially high frequency with which noise is detected in Okinawa, but did not receive a response about it.

    (Japanese original by Tamami Kawakami, Foreign News Department, and Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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