13 Marine Aircraft to Deploy to Australia

The Marine Corps this spring is sending its largest aircraft element to date -- four tilt-rotor Ospreys and five Super Cobra and four Huey helicopters, all out of Hawaii -- to the next $25 million rotation of Marines to northern Australia as the Corps continues to redistribute its forces around the Pacific.

The Marines are moving to four major forward areas of operation over the next decade -- Japan, Guam, Hawaii and Australia -- as part of a "distributed laydown" that seeks to deter growing threats in the vast Asia-Pacific region, particularly from from China and North Korea.

The Osprey, with its long range and speed, is seen as a key connector for the Marine Corps in its new island-hopping strategy.

In November 2011, President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that U.S. Marines would be sent on six-month rotational deployments to train with the Australian Defence Force in Darwin and elsewhere in the Northern Territory. The move puts the Marines closer to Southeast Asia and allows Australia, a key ally, to bolster its defense.

The presence was to grow to a 2,500-member Marine Air-Ground Task Force during the 2016-2017 time frame, but officials said the sixth iteration of the deployment will remain at 1,250 Marines who are expected to arrive in Australia in April.

Most of the Marines will be from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, out of Camp Pendleton in California, Marine Corps Forces Pacific said.

According to Australia's Department of Defence, 200 Marines deployed in 2012, 250 in 2013, 1,150 in 2014, 1,150 in 2015 and 1,250 in 2016.

But the deployment number is stuck at 1,250 for the time being as funding problems continue to be worked out for the full Marine Air-Ground Task Force of 2,500 with aircraft, vehicles and other equipment.

"The Marine Corps position to date has been that we will not grow the force beyond 1,250 Marines in Australia until we get some top-line (overall Marine Corps budget) relief for funding for military construction," Craig Whelden, executive director of Marine Corps Forces Pacific at Camp H.M. Smith, said at a recent Chamber of Commerce Hawaii event.

Whelden added that "we've essentially tapped out what we can use of existing facilities and for sustainment." The deployment of 1,250 Marines costs about $25 million, he said. Marine Corps Forces Pacific is the tasking authority for the units participating in the rotations.

Australia and the United States in October agreed to a more than $1.5 billion cost-sharing agreement to improve infrastructure in northern Australia as well as pay for ongoing costs over the 25-year pact -- ending a disagreement over who would pay the tab, The Australian newspaper reported.

Australian media also said the Marine Corps rotational force is expected to double to its full strength of 2,500 by 2020.

The four Hawaii MV-22 Ospreys scheduled to make the deployment are from Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 268 (VMM-268), while the five AH-1W Super Cobra and four UH-1Y Venom helicopters are part of Marine Light Attack Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367). The Aviation Combat Element of 13 aircraft will be hosted at Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin.

By comparison, the Marines sent four UH-1Y helicopters for the rotational deployment in 2016 and four big CH-53E Super Stallions in 2015, according to Australia's Defence Department.

Whelden called the next contingent to deploy "a more diversified, a more capable force than we've had previously."

The "distributed laydown" in the Pacific, which dovetails with the Marine Corps' expeditionary nature and ability to rapidly move forces from one place to another, calls for moving more than 4,000 Marines from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam. Whelden said hundreds of millions of dollars already have been invested on Guam, with wharves to support amphibious ready group ships already completed and ramp and hangar work ongoing for Ospreys and the new F-35B Lightning II, which the Corps called the "world's first operational supersonic short takeoff and vertical landing fighter." "We aren't basing F-35s in Guam, but we train on Guam a lot," Whelden said. Ten of the stealth fighters this week were sent to Iwakuni, Japan, with six more expected to arrive this summer. Whelden said the relocation of about 2,700 Marines from Okinawa to Hawaii is about 10 years away.

US Marines ground fleet of Osprey aircraft in Japan

The U.S.A. Marine Corps has suspended flights of its Osprey aircraft in Japan after one of the planes crash-landed off the coast of Okinawa, injuring five crew members.

The crash triggered protests on Okinawa, where anti-U.S. military sentiment is already strong.

Many Okinawans were opposed to deploying the Osprey on the island due to safety concerns following a string of crashes outside Japan, including one in Hawaii last year.
The Mayor of Nago, Susumu Inamine, said: 'This is what we have feared might happen some day. We can never live safely here.'

More than half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa under the Japan-US security treaty.

Defiant wife of Japanese PM Abe visits US Okinawa base construction protest

Japan’s first lady Akie Abe says she is “ready to face criticism” after attending an anti-government rally, protesting the construction of new helipads at the US-operated military in Okinawa.

“This is my first step to create a world of love and harmony,” Akie Abe wrote in a Facebook status update.

The helipads are being constructed as compensation for a 1996 agreement, in which the US would hand back 4,000 hectares out of the 7,800 that constitute the training area, providing six new landing spots would be built on the remaining land.

Construction began in 2007, yet so far only two have been completed, after an unending series of protests and legal challenges.

Work has recently restarted, but residents of the nearby village of Higashi – who say that the helipads will be too close to residential areas – have blockaded roads, prevented trucks carrying materials from entering the construction site, and staged sit-ins.

Nearly three quarters of US military resources in Japan are located on the small archipelago to the south of most of Japan’s islands, and residents say they have long been inconvenienced by the base, which was constructed following the country’s defeat in World War II.

Helipad project resumes in Okinawa after barrier removed

Anti-U.S. base demonstrators and riot police clashed here on July 22, when authorities started removing a barricade set up to obstruct a project to build helipads for the U.S. military.

The Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau, which oversees the helipad project, said the barricade, consisting mainly of vehicles, had been dismantled and that construction has resumed.

But the scuffles involved showed that the protesters are far from ending their opposition to the project.

About 100 riot police arrived at a path leading to helipad construction sites near the Takae district of Higashi village in the prefecture’s northern region around 5:30 a.m.

About 200 residents, conservationists and activists had already assembled there to keep the barricade intact. Some lied down or sat on the path to block the police.

However, the riot police forcibly removed the demonstrators. Shoving matches ensued and screams of anger were heard when the protesters were carried away from the site.

“Are you going to lend a hand in the destruction of Yanbaru?” one of the protesters shouted, referring to the forest where helipads will be installed.

“We are against the helipad for Osprey,” screamed another, referring to the tilt-rotor aircraft used by the U.S. military.

One woman complained of being ill and requested help from emergency workers.

As of 11 a.m., the vehicle barricade had been removed, but more than 100 cars were still parked on the sides of the road to hinder the project. Supply vehicles still cannot enter the construction sites.

Construction started in 2007, and two helipads were completed by 2014. But work to build the four other helipads was suspended after opponents blockaded the path. On July 11, the day after Upper House election, the defense bureau started preparations to resume the project.

US Military Worker Wants His Murder Trial Moved off Okinawa

A U.S. military contractor charged with raping and killing a 20-year-old woman in Japan has asked that his trial be moved outside Okinawa, saying he may not receive a fair trial on the southern island where the case has received extensive media coverage and opposition to U.S. bases is high, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Kenneth Shinzato, a former Marine who is a contractor at Kadena Air Base, was arrested in May when the victim's body was found. He has been charged with rape, murder and abandoning the body of the woman.

His lawyer, Toshimitsu Takaesu, said he submitted a request on Monday for the venue to be shifted to Tokyo because a local jury is likely to be prejudiced, and to allow Shinzato a proper translator and mental examination.

"What's most important is for him to have a fair trial," Takaesu said in a telephone interview from his office in Okinawa. "But after massive media coverage, many people already believe he is a bad guy and guilty. Under the circumstances, the verdict is likely to be guilty regardless of the evidence."

He said Shinzato has denied the murder and rape allegations.

In Japan, jury trials are held only in murder and other serious cases.

Japanese authorities have said Shinzato drove around looking for a target before attacking the victim as she was taking a walk at night.

Shinzato, a U.S. citizen from New York who was born Kenneth Gadson, married a Japanese woman on Okinawa and uses her family name. He was in the Marines before working as a contractor.

The case has sparked outrage and rekindled anti-U.S. military sentiment and protests on Okinawa, where residents resent a heavy American troop presence.

Shinzato's case led Tokyo and Washington to announce a plan Tuesday to reduce the number of civilian U.S. base workers covered by the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which protects service members from Japanese prosecution in case of on-duty or on-base accidents or crimes.

Shinzato is considered outside of the SOFA coverage and has been handled under Japanese criminal justice from the beginning.

More than half of nearly 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan under the Japan-U.S. security treaty are on Okinawa. In terms of space, more than 70 percent of Japan-based U.S. military facilities are on the small island. In 1995, three U.S. servicemen on Okinawa abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl in a case that triggered mass protests and led to an agreement to relocate a key air station to another area of the island. The plan has since stalled because residents want the base removed completely from the island.