The head of the U.S. Pacific Command said Tuesday that Washington expects a two-year delay until 2025 in work to complete a new base for the contentious relocation of a Marine Corps facility in Japan’s .
“Now we’re looking at 2025 before that’s done,” Adm. Harry Harris told Congress, referring to a plan to relocate Air Station Futenma within the southern island prefecture.
The Japanese and U.S. governments agreed in 2013 that the land currently used by the base in Ginowan would be returned in Japan’s 2022 fiscal year, which ends in March 2023, at the earliest if a relocation facility is completed in the less densely populated coastal area of Nago.
“It’s slowed. It’s…a little over two years late,” Harris told a hearing at the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
Tokyo has already begun work to build an airfield on reclaimed land in Nago, but progress has been hampered by tussles between protesters attempting to block the building work and law enforcement authorities near the construction site.
Tokyo and Washington came up with the relocation plan to reduce the burden on , which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, but Gov. Takeshi Onaga wants the Futenma base moved outside the prefecture.
Construction of a relocation facility is “Japan’s responsibility. That’s their obligation to us,” Harris said.
On Wednesday, senior Japanese officials said the bilateral accord to relocate the Futenma base as early as in fiscal 2022 remains unchanged.
“We would like to realize the relocation of Air Station Futenma as soon as possible,” Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters during a trip to Aichi Prefecture, central Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference in Tokyo the Japanese government will steadily promote relocation work so as to return (the area housing) Air Station Futenma as soon as possible.”
The Marine Corps envisages building hangars for the MV-22 tilt-rotor transport aircraft in the U.S. 2021 fiscal year, which ends September 2021, and runways and taxiways in fiscal 2024 on the planned relocation facility, according to the Marine Aviation Plan 2016.
The Marines also intend to construct hangars for various aircraft including attack helicopters in fiscal 2025, according to the plan.
Harris also told the committee that Marines in will be transferred to Hawaii in the 2020s as part of a bilateral plan to move 9,000 of the 19,000 -stationed Marines to locations outside Japan such as Guam andHawaii.
Japan and the United States have agreed to begin transferring Marines to Guam from in the early 2020s but have yet to reveal a time frame for their transfer to Hawaii.