U.S. military officials in Japan say training will not be affected by a resolution passed by the Okinawa prefecture (state) assembly demanding a temporary grounding of all American F-15 fighter jets on the island. The call to halt the flights comes after the crash of a U.S. Air Force fighter off Okinawa last month.
Although the Okinawa government cannot ground the U.S. jets, the resolution is seen as a strong political statement of continuing opposition to the American bases on the island.
There has been a series of incidents involving U.S. military aircraft in and around Okinawa this year. The catalyst for the assembly's resolution was the August 21 crash over the Pacific Ocean of an F-15 based at Okinawa's Kadena Air Base. Anti-military groups were angered that training flights resumed days later, before an investigation into the crash was completed.
The secretary-general of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, Takashi Kishimoto, supports the assembly's action. Mr. Kishimoto says the F-15s on Okinawa should be grounded until the crash investigation is completed and the airworthiness of the aircraft is confirmed. He says even that will not solve the problem of so many foreign military aircraft flying over the prefecture.
Every accident or crime involving U.S. forces on Okinawa is closely followed by Japanese media. Okinawa is home to about 20,000 American military personnel. U.S. Air Force officials complain that minor incidents involving aircraft are being portrayed as serious emergencies. Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Krejcarek, a Kadena spokesman, says if the F-15's were not safe, they would not be flying. "I want to reassure everybody that the safety has always been paramount and at no time have any of our precautionary landings ever been, have ever brought any possible harm to the local populous or the environment," says Mr. Krejcarek. "These are always fully under control at all times."
U.S. military officials say the F-15 flights are necessary to train air crews in the region.