Veterans For Peace-Okinawa Sends Letter to Defense Secretary Mattis

The following letter was written by the Veterans For Peace ROCK chapter in Okinawa. 


To: General James N. Mattis, US Secretary of Defense
DOD-Department of Communications
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1400
From: Veterans For Peace-Ryukyu/Okinawa Chapter Kokusai (VFP-ROCK)
C. Douglas Lummis (USMC 1958-61), Coordinator

Subject: Impermissible encroachment at MCAS Futenma

Reference (a): OPNAVINST 11010.36c (9 October, 2008).

1. As a peace organization composed mainly of military veterans living in Okinawa, we have many differences with the US Military Establishment, but there is one thing
about which we can agree: neither you nor we (nor the Okinawan people) wish to see any further crashes or accidents involving US military aircraft here. It is on the basis of this shared interest that this letter is written.

2. We understand that the basic policy for maximizing the safety of US Navy and Marine Corps Air Installations is set down in reference (a). It is on the basis of that order that
we write.
Reference (a) establishes the Air Installations Compatible Use Zones (AICUZ) Program. Its purpose is described as twofold: “to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare and to prevent encroachment from degrading the operational capability of military air installations in meeting national security.” Thus, the fact that minimization of air crashes and accidents is in our mutual interest is at the basis of the AICUZ Program.

3. The cover letter to reference (a) states, “these procedures apply to all Navy and Marine Corps airfields within the confines of the United States, its territories and possessions. AICUZ studies, or portions thereof, may be developed for U.S. activities in foreign countries if such action supports host nation policy for protecting the operational capabilities of those activities, and for on-base planning goals.” According to reference (a) appendix (b), AICUZ studies are already in place at MCAS Futenma, though for “noise study only”. But the situation at MCAS Futenma indicates that AICUZ studies relating to the safety not only to the citizens of Ginowan City but also to the safety of the pilots and passengers on aircraft flying in and out of MCAS Futenma are sorely needed. The USMC’s “Environmental Review for MV-22 Basing in Okinawa and Operating in Japan” indicates that the Marines have adopted the perfect “bureaucratic solution”. As the map in Figure 3-6- 1 shows, the requirement to have clear zones has been met by simply designating two areas (crowded with residences, businesses, etc,) as “clear zones”, while doing nothing actually to clear them.

4. It may be that initiation of such a program has been prevented by the Japanese National Government’s determination that “such action” does not support “host nation policy”. If so, that would mean that the US is allowing the safety standards on some of its military bases to be determined by a foreign country – and to be set at a lower standard than would be required in the United States. If that’s the Japanese Government’s decision, it can only be respected. However, reference (a) also states that AICUZ programs can/should be initiated in collaboration with local governments. As you well know, Okinawa Prefecture and Ginowan City share an intense concern with MCAS Futenma safety standards, and ought to have been involved in constructing a cooperative safety policy, as reference (a) indicates. For whatever reason, this did not happen, and the result is a safety officer’s nightmare.

5. Aside from bureaucratic technicalities, reference (a) sets down what the US Government and the Department of the Navy understand to be essential safety standards for military airports. Surely the US Government does not take the position that it is unnecessary to hold to these standards in foreign countries because there is a clause in a document that says you don’t have to. As veterans, we are painfully aware, as you must be as well, that by far the largest number of people killed and wounded in US military air accidents are the pilots and passengers in those aircraft.

6. According to reference (a), an essential feature of any airport’s safety policy is to have a clear zone at each end of the runway. On this, the wording of the directive is uncompromising:
“Clear zones, areas immediately beyond the ends of runways and along primary flight paths, have the greatest potential for occurrence of aircraft accidents and should remain undeveloped.”[4.a.(1)]
“The clear zone is required for all active runway ends” [4.b (1)]
“No structures (except airfield lighting) buildings or aboveground utility/communications lines should normally be located in clear-zone areas on or off the installation.” [Note 4 to table 2]
The wording could not be clearer.

7. As you all are (painfully) aware, MCAS Futenma is in blatant violation of this fundamental safety regulation. Where there ought to be clear zones, there are structures of every sort. There is no need here to dwell on this point: it is what MCAS Futenma is famous for.

8. Reference (a) distinguishes between two aspects of safety: “the probable impact area if an accident were to occur” and “the probability of an accident occurring.” The area that ought to be a clear zone is a probable impact area both because every aircraft using the runway flies over it, and because they all fly over it at low altitude. But it also has a high probability of causing an accident if it is the location of multi- storey buildings, telephone poles, or enterprises that emit smoke, bright light, electromagnetic waves, or attract birds. It is for these reasons that the directive is adamant: “The clear zone is required for all active runway ends.”

9. As mentioned above, reference (a) states one of the purposes of AICUZ programs is to avoid “encroachment.” “Encroachment” is defined as “threats to operational integrity from incompatible development.” [7.1. (a)] Given that definition, it can be seen that MCAS Futenma has suffered from total encroachment. Not only the absence of clear zones, the area all around the base is littered with multi-storey buildings, and even high rises. On that tragic day (Friday the thirteenth) in 2004, those boys might have got their helicopter back into the base if that tall school building had not been in the way.

10. Determining who is to blame for this is a job for politicians and historians, not for safety officers. Neither trying to “turn the clock back” nor waiting, with fingers crossed, for a new base to be built at Henoko, (which will not be completed for decades, if ever) is a solution. From a safety standpoint, MCAS Futenma is untenable, and it seems that the US is powerless to remedy this, as its safety standards are in the hands of a foreign government. Calling it “an accident looking for a place to happen” is inaccurate, because the place is already known, and the accidents are already happening. Now it is just a matter of waiting for The Big One; that being defined as the one that drives the US military out of Okinawa altogether. If you wish realistically to avoid that, the smart thing to do will be to shut down MCAS Futenma immediately. When you consider this possibility, we urge you to think of this issue from a safety standpoint, and not a political one.


Copies have been sent to: 

General James N. Mattis, US Secretary of Defense
DOD-Department of Communications
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1400 USA

Gen. Joe Dunford
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Joint Staff Public Affairs
999 Joint Staff Pentagon, Room 2D932
Washington DC 20318-9999 USA

Mr.Richard V. Spencer
Secretary of the Navy
c/o Chief of Information
1200 Navy Pentagon
Washington DC 20350-1200 USA

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander US Forces Pacific
US Pacific Command
Honolulu, Hawai’i USA

Lt. Gen Jerry P. Martinez
Commander US Forces Japan
Building 714 Yokota Air Base
Fussa-shi, Tokyo 197-000
〒197-0001 東京都福生市横田基地内
在日米軍司令部広報部 (J021)

Hon. William Hagarty IV
US Ambassador to Japan
1-10- 5 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tokyo 107-8420
〒107-8420東京都港区赤坂1- 10-5

Hon. Joel Ehrendreich
US Consul General for Okinawa

Senator John McCain
Chair, Senate Armed Services Committee
218 Russel Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510 USA

Senator Jack Reed
Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee
728 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510, USA

Representative Mac Thornberry
Chair, House Armed Services Committee
2216 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington DC, 20515 USA

Representative Adam Smith
Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee
2216 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington DC, 20515 USA