Japan Sees Major Basing Change

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U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units in Japan are engaged in a massive shift of bases and buildup of facilities as part of the planned realignment of U.S. bases and forces.

As part of the realignment, 57 carrier-based aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 5 - assigned to the carrier Kitty Hawk (CV 63) - and about 3,800 Navy personnel and their family members will be relocated from the Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Kanagawa Prefecture to the Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Also, 12 KC-130 Hercules tanker-cargo aircraft from marine squadron VMGR-152 now at the Futenma base on Okinawa will relocate to Iwakuni. That squadron has about 350 Marine personnel. It is not clear whether the Navys light anti-submarine helicopter squadron HSL-51, which provides SH-60F/MH-60R Sea Hawks to surface ships based in Japan, will also shift from Atusgi to Iwakuni.

About 50 U.S. Marine aircraft and 6,000 U.S. personnel and their family members are now located at the Iwakuni base. The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force also has aircraft based at Iwakuni. Under the realignment the total of U.S.-Japanese aircraft at Iwakuni could reach some 150.

Under agreements between the United States and Japan, the Japanese government will pay for most base improvements at Iwakuni. This will include new operations facilities, aircraft parking aprons, billets for unmarried personnel, schools, leisure facilities, storehouses, fuel depots, and munitions storage. With the recent relocation of runways at the base, the Japanese government has already spent 240 billion yen. The realignment will also cost the U.S. government several hundred million dollars.

The carrier Kitty Hawk, which operates Carrier Air Wing 5, is based at Yokosuka, the only U.S. carrier that is home ported outside of the continental United States. She will be replaced in 2008 by the carrier George Washington (CVN 73), now based at the Norfolk naval base. The Kitty Hawk, completed in 1961, will return to the United States and be decommissioned. She is the last oil-burning CV-type carrier in U.S. Navy service.

-- Norman Polmar

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