The Largest Land Return in Okinawa History
USFJ Public Affairs
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – U.S. Forces, Japan officials are preparing for the largest land return on Okinawa since the 1972 reversion of the island to Japanese control.
The return of more than half of the Northern Training area, nearly 4,000 hectares of single and double-canopy rainforest, will reduce the amount of U.S. exclusive-use land on Okinawa by more than 17 percent.
The Northern Training Area, also known as Camp Gonsalves, is a 7,500 hectare stretch of largely undeveloped jungle land in the northern part of Okinawa prefecture, and is currently used by the U.S. military and the JSDF for jungle training. According to military officials, the return is possible because U.S. forces will be able to conduct their training on the remaining land in the NTA following the construction of six new helicopter landing zones and access roads.
"The construction of several new helipads in the Northern Training Area supporting Camp Gonsalves and the Jungle Warfare Training Center will enable us to significantly reduce the amount of land we need to conduct jungle warfare training,” said Col. Thomas J. Verell, USFJ Command Engineer. “Specifically, nearly half of the entire training area, by far the largest on Okinawa, will no longer be required for training as soon as the Government of Japan completes construction of the remaining helipads and the associated ground access roads.”
Following the latest return, approximately 64 percent of U.S. exclusive-use area and one percent of limited-use area will remain on Okinawa. Despite the name ‘exclusive-use,’ nearly 81 percent of such U.S. facilities on Okinawa include joint use agreements, which allow for use by the JSDF or other Japanese government agencies.
According to Maj. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, United States Forces, Japan interim commander, the return of the land is in accordance with long-standing agreements between Japan and the United States.
“As part of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States of America and Japan, the U.S. is granted the right to certain exclusive-use facilities for the purpose of the defense of Japan and maintenance of peace and security in the Far East,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, United States Forces, Japan Deputy Commander. “Under the treaty, once facilities or areas are no longer necessary to meet those ends, they will be returned to Japanese government. In this case, the construction of several replacement helicopter landing zones to consolidate training within other existing areas will allow the return of almost 4,000 hectares.”
The conditional land return is part of the 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa report (SACO).
“This decreased training area on Okinawa will not deteriorate our commitment or our ability towards working with the Government of Japan and our partners in the Japan Self Defense Force in mutual defense of this country,” said Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Forces Japan. “Our capabilities to operate in the Pacific will remain consistent, even within a smaller space. We will continue to use this area respectfully within operations and safety requirements for Osprey and other aerial platforms. We have plans for many more SACO agreement and other returns to be implemented in coming years, because we are respectful of the feelings of Okinawans that our footprint must be reduced.”
The partial return of the Northern Training Area is one portion of other initiatives and agreements with the Government of Japan to consolidate U.S. facilities on Okinawa, with the eventual goal of returning most facilities south of Kadena. The return of MCAS Futenma, in particular, has been a major goal of both the U.S. and Japan for several years.