Random Post: By any other name| RSS .92| RSS 2.0| ATOM 0.3
  • Home
  • About
  •  

    The friendly skies

    Posted by Sean at 02:51, February 27th, 2006

    The US may give some of the Yokota airbase back to Japan. The issue is airspace rather than land:

    Each day, about 470 commercial flights in and out of Haneda and Narita airports must take alternate routes to avoid airspace controlled by the U.S. military’s Yokota airbase, according to a calculation by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

    Some flights detour around the space and others make steeper ascents than needed.

    The number of flights affected will rise to about 650 in 2009 with more traffic at the airports, the study said.

    The extra fuel cost is 8 billion yen a year, likely to climb to 10.9 billion yen in 2009.

    If a southern section of the airspace were returned to Japan, the extra cost and the flight times could be minimized, the report said.

    While Japan’s population isn’t rising, the number of flights in and out of Tokyo is. The closest Japan has had to a civil aviation disaster since the Otsuka crash in 1985 was in 2001, when two JAL jets came within thirty feet of colliding. Tokyo Metro Governor Shintaro Ishihara blamed the strictures on flightpaths imposed by having US military airspace so close to Haneda and Narita, though it must be noted that weird ascent and descent patterns were not exactly the only problem on display:

    Transport ministry officials said the post-accident report filed by the DC-10 pilot, Tatsuyuki Akazawa, 45, also indicated the two planes missed each other by a whisker. “Altitude difference little, lateral distance none,” Mr. Akazawa’s report said.

    The incident occurred early Wednesday evening. The Boeing Flight 907 was ascending to a cruising altitude of 11,300 meters, while the DC-10 Flight 958 was descending from 11,900 meters to prepare for landing at the New Tokyo International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, transport ministry officials said.

    Both planes were equipped with the Traffic Collision Avoidance System, a computerized device that would alert pilots when they were flying too close to each other.

    Ministry officials said air traffic communications records kept at the Tokyo Air Traffic Control Center, based in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, show that air traffic controllers repeatedly used wrong flight numbers in telling the pilots of the two airplanes to change course.

    The official in charge of the two flights, a 26-year-old man in his third year of training as an air traffic controller, first realized that the flight paths of the two planes were too close and initiated warnings to the two pilots under the supervision of a 32-year-old controller who served as his coach.

    According to air traffic communications records released by the transport ministry, the male air traffic controller twice ordered the Boeing 747 to lower its attitude and the DC-10 to turn right.

    As there was no response, the coach broke into the radio channel and told ” Flight 957″ to immediately lower its altitude.

    The record shows that the coach again misspoke the flight number when the Boeing 747 pilot radioed in that there was an alert on the aircraft’s collision avoidance system and he was descending. “Roger, flight 908,” she said, in a message meant for the Boeing flight 907 pilot.

    Moments later, the DC-10 flight 958 pilot reported to air traffic control that alert also sounded on his collision avoidance system, and the trainee controller responded, “Roger, flight 908.” “The situation was extremely dangerous,” Mr. Watanabe told air traffic control after the near-fatal collision was averted. Analysts said that had the Boeing not dived to avoid a collision, “the worst ever accident in aviation history” could have occurred.

    The Boeing 747 was carrying 411 passengers and 16 crew members, and the DC-10 had 250 passengers and crew members on board.

    Poor communication about the collision avoidance system was the major cause of the midair collision over Germany in 2002, though the air traffic controller involved was undone by circumstances and didn’t blurt out non-existent flight numbers.

    Speaking of changes in US military facilities, several thousand Marines may or may not be moved out of Okinawa as part of the Futenma restructuring plan. They would be relocated to Guam.


    Nukaga: DFAA Most Exalted Grand Poobah to stay put

    Posted by Sean at 08:54, February 22nd, 2006

    Japan Defense Agency head Fukushiro Nukaga speaks:

    A special lower house budgetary committee deliberatory session revolving around collusion in construction projects for the Defense Facilities Administrative Agency was held the morning of 22 February. Defense Agency leader Fukushiro Nukaga, on being given news of the rearrest of a former top agency official, stated, “we are thoroghly investigating the problems in both administrative and organizational terms, and making a fresh start is the responsibility of the DFAA leader and my mission.” He denied anew that either he himself or DFAA head Iwao Kitahara would resign.

    Nukaga stated that Kitahara has assumed the job of chair of the investigative committee that has been established in the DFAA, and indicated that there is no immediate plan for Kitahara to be reassigned.

    Kitahara is of special interest to those who follow US-Japan military ties because, for one thing, he used to be DFAA chief in Okinawa and, partly because of that and partly because he’s now the general secretary, he’s been one of the chief negotiators in the drive to restructure US military facilities in that prefecture (especially, of course, Futenma). To what extent he allowed the culture of collusion to continue to flourish at the DFAA is an open question–he was clearly good at rising through the ranks, but on the other hand he’s only been in the driver’s seat for a year or so. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, on the face of it, for Nukaga to decide that the imminent clean-up is, as he says, Kitahara’s proper job.


    New Nago mayor opposes current US military restructuring plan

    Posted by Sean at 06:18, January 23rd, 2006

    …but so did his opponents, so that part of the outcome wasn’t really under dispute.

    The Governor of Okinawa spoke today with the head of the JDA on the restructuring of US military installations in Okinawa, which is an ongoing issue on which there seems to be little movement lately:

    Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine visited Japan Defense Agency head Fukushiro Nukaga at the JDA offices on 23 January. Of the mayoral election in the city of Nago, he stated, “The new mayor will be someone who acts in good faith, but all three candidates stood opposed to the proposal to shift [US military] operations and facilities from the Futenma Base to the coastal areas of Camp Schwab. It will still be a difficult issue from here on.” He went on to say of the Futenma restructuring issue that “from the Okinawa side, we will continue to act in good faith.”

    The JDA has asked for concessions from the US aimed at minimizing the burdens placed on locals where our bases are located. The Yomiuri had a good English-edition rundown of the election referred to above:

    In fact, Shimabukuro [who won, BTW–SRK] is opposed to the relocation plan to which the Japanese and the U.S. governments agreed (under the agreed plan, the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan will be relocated to the southern coast of Camp Schwab in Nago). However, Shimabukuro wants to leave room for compromise should the plan be revised.

    Henoko Ward Head Yasumasa Oshiro said: “Those who protest against the plan say, ‘The money will be gone as it’s spent, but the base will remain forever.’ But these pretty words don’t feed people. What’s important is compensation.”

    Quite a few restaurants in the central part of the ward seemed to have closed down, others seem to be struggling, the English letters on their signs fading away.

    An elderly taxi driver said, “This used to be a lively quarter, full of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, but now it’s deserted, with no young people coming in.”

    Oshiro is opposed to the current relocation plan, which suggests building the air station only 300 meters away from the closest civilian residence. He does not approve of the way the central government overruled the local governments when it agreed to the plan.

    Oshiro criticized the central government, saying: “We’re not interested in dugongs and seaweed beds. The government should have dealt effectively with the opponents and promoted the idea of building the airport on reclaimed land in shallow waters off Henoko. It was their delinquency that didn’t make it happen.”

    A few months ago, the US was the party pushing the original reclaimed-land proposal; local voters didn’t go for it, and it isn’t just a gambit by Okinawan politicians to shove the relocated facilities as far away from the locals as possible.

    *******

    Oh, and BTW, whoops!

    Several unmanned helicopters produced by Yamaha Motor Co. may have been passed on to China’s People’s Liberation Army, it has been learned.

    Suspicions have arisen that the helicopters, which are employed largely for industrial use but can be also used for military purposes, were illegally exported to China, investigators allege.

    Yamaha Motor has denied the allegations, but suspicions have arisen that the helicopters may have been passed on to the People’s Liberation Army. Police and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry are investigating the company over its actions.

    Investigators said Yamaha Motor was involved in trade with an aircraft firm in Beijing. The aircraft firm’s Web site says Yamaha Motor’s unmanned helicopters have prospects for “wide use in civilian and military fields.” An unmanned helicopter is pictured alongside a People’s Liberation Army jet.


    大連立

    Posted by Sean at 15:55, December 16th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi is putting the most kindly light on Democratic Party of Japan leader Maehara’s recent rejection of the idea of fuller cooperation with the ruling coalition:

    On 16 December, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke about DPJ leader Seiji Maehara’s denial of the possibility of a “broad alliance” with the LDP: “As the head of the opposition party, he had no choice but to say such a thing.” Koizumi went further and stated, “The world of politics is difficult to predict even in the short-term. In Germany, such cooperation had been said to be impossible, but it came to pass,” suggesting once again that a broad alliance [was feasible]. He was responding to questions from the press corps at the Prime Minister’s residence.

    Regarding the wave upon wave of criticisms leveled at Maehara at the [DPJ] party convention, Koizumi gave the DPJ leader a shout-out: “Being in a leadership position is tough. I hope Mr. Maehara will see things through and ride out his current difficulties.”

    That last reference to “Mr. Maehara” may be a noun of direct address, but that doesn’t really affect the basic meaning. Maehara has been relatively quiet. You see him quoted frequently, of course–he’s the opposition leader, after all–but his comments rarely have the irritability of Katsuya Okada’s. Of course, that could mean either that he’s shrewdly buying his time or that he realizes how green he is and is steering a middle course out of fear that he’ll make a misstep. Or some of both.

    BTW, Maehara, one of whose distinguishing characteristics is his higher level of hawkishness than previous DPJ leaders, intimated to the press on a visit to Okinawa that he could be prepared to agree to a special provision to shift land use rights from Naha to Tokyo in order to implement the transfer of US military facilities at Futenma. On the other hand, he’s criticized the government’s current treatment of the Okinawa government: “When restructuring specific [military] bases, close consultation with–and consent of–regional government entities, is indispensable; but [the approach] this time around was extremely crude. It demonstrated contempt [for Okinawa].” Tension between the capital and the provinces is a fact of life for every large, complex society I’m aware of, and in Japan, things are especially prickly between Tokyo and Okinawa.

    Okinawa has its own distinct language and history and sorely resents being treated, as it views things, like the mainland’s trash dump. The locals don’t like putting up with the off-hours behavior of military personnel and the foreign control of large swaths of land, but they’d be in an economic pickle if we left, and they know it. Regarding US military installations, of course, things aren’t black and white. Okinawa is the poorest prefecture in Japan. Having our bases there brings in money and creates jobs. The US could probably learn to cultivate a more friendly manner toward its sub-tropical hosts, but I’m not sure how much good that would do when the far more long-term problem is with the deep rift between Tokyo and Naha.


    Something that is substantive

    Posted by Sean at 23:20, October 13th, 2005

    The US and Japan are still in negotiations over the Futenma USMC base in Okinawa and (of course) the ban on beef imports. Thomas Schieffer, Howard Baker’s colorless successor as US ambassador to Japan, appears to be trying to apply pressure:

    Japan has proposed holding a “two plus two” top level security meeting on Oct. 29 over the issue and expects the two countries to compile an interim report on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan before U.S. President George W. Bush’s expected visit in November.

    Schieffer said the Futenma issue should be resolved before discussing these matters, while stressing that they should be left to the two countries’ negotiators.

    “I think the purpose of the interim agreement is to announce something that is substantive,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to have a meeting just for a meeting’s sake.”

    He called ongoing bilateral talks on the U.S. military’s realignment plans strategic negotiations.

    “What we have been continuing to try to stress throughout the negotiations…are strategic elements in the alliance,” Schieffer said. “What we also want to do is look at what those forces would be and what they will need to be capable of doing in the future in order to be effective.”

    Schieffer also expressed strong dissatisfaction with Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports due to concerns over mad cow disease.

    “I’m afraid it has done real damage to the American-Japanese relationship, because it has reminded people of some of the trade frictions that existed between our two countries in the 1980s,” he said. “I hope that the issue resolves as soon as possible, because if this continues to go on, I think that the United States Congress is going to impose sanctions on Japan.”

    “I hope that the matter will be largely resolved, if not completely [by the time of Bush’s visit],” he said.

    Well, the beef import ban is excessive given what scientists know about BSE; I’m not sure that comparisons with Japan’s outright protectionist trade barriers of two decades ago really work. In any case, the Japanese government appears to be relenting on the issue of where to move Futenma’s helicopter operations, which to judge from reports will make restructuring easier for the armed forces.


    Japan and US disagree over relocation of USMC base

    Posted by Sean at 22:05, October 3rd, 2005

    The Nikkei reports:

    The exchange of opinions between the Japanese and US governments revolving around where to relocate the facilities at the Futenma [USMC] Base in Okinawa, a focal point of the restructuring of US military presence in Japan, is heating up. Negotiations that were initially quiet on the surface have developed into a state in which each side responds with a ringing declaration of its own position. The Japanese government sent Japan Defense Agency [policy] head Kazuo Ofuru to the US on 4 October and is looking for an opening by which to work its way out of the current deadlock, but there is a deep divide between the Japan-side proposal to move operations to the Camp Schwab exercise grounds (the on-land proposal) and the US-side proposal to reclaim shallows for the purpose (the off-shore proposal).

    “The US is pushing its off-shore proposal, but we’ve said, ‘It will be very difficult to build [the base] on sea; let’s go with a land base.’ A plan for the same sort of base has also been rejected by voters in Nago [City].”

    Takemasa Moriya, Deputy Minister of Defense, revealed to a 3 October press conference that he was very dissatisfied with the US response.

    The Futenma facilities in question house helicopter operations, which are a touchy subject on both sides these past few years.

    Moriya, BTW, is an interesting character. He’s the highest-level pure bureaucrat at the Japan Defense Agency. (The cabinet ministers themselves, of course, are selected by the Prime Minister and approved by the ruling party, so they tend to come from outside.) He’s very powerful, and he doesn’t mince words–you learn to stop and pay attention when one of his soundbites comes on NHK, because what he says is usually as reliable an indicator as you get of what Japan’s military strategists are thinking. Or at least what they want the Japanese public and the rest of the world to think they’re thinking.