U.S. Senator Webb: “Marine Corps Should Revise Its Guam Plan to a Stripped-Down Presence”

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Guam – Senator Jim Webb issued the following statement regarding  the joint release that he and fellow Senators Carl Levin and John McCain issued yesterday [Thursday] with reference to their proposed changes in East Asia military basing which will have a dramatic impact on Guam.

Webb’s Statement:

“The recommendations made yesterday were the product of a great deal of consideration based on many years of thought and study that began with my time in the Pacific as a military planner in the 1970s, and included two visits to Okiinawa, Guam and Tinian over the past 15 months.  I very much appreciate Senator Levin’s interest in reaching a resolution, and his willingness to make a personal visit to these islands last month, and also Senator McCain’s long-time involvement in Asian affairs and his support of this new approach.”

“I would like to emphasize that the recommendations we moved forward yesterday are workable, cost-effective, capable of being implemented in a timely manner, will reduce the burden on the Okinawan people, and will strengthen the American contribution to the security of East Asia.”

Senator Webb’s full recommendations regarding military basing are below.

Recommendations

1. The Marine Corps should consider revising its implementation plan for Guam to a stripped-down presence with a permanently-assigned (family accompanied) headquarters element bolstered by deployed, rotating combat units that are home-based elsewhere, and the construction of a “Camp Fuji” style training site on Tinian.  The “planned” versus “preferred” options for Marine Corps presence on Guam need to be resolved so that the Navy can develop and provide to the Committee the master plan for the overall buildup on Guam that was first requested in 2006.

2. DOD should immediately examine the feasibility of moving the Marine Corps assets at Futenma into Kadena Air Force Base, while dispersing a percentage of Air Force assets now at Kadena into other areas of the Pacific region.  A number of other options exist in Japan and, especially, Anderson Air Force Base in Guam.  In addition, the 6,000-acre ammunition storage area at Kadena could potentially be down-sized, especially in light of the two ammunition storage areas already located on Guam – one of them comprising 8,000 acres in and of itself, and the other one already located on Anderson Air Force Base.

Reducing the burden of the US presence on the people of Okinawa is an important goal associated with the realignment roadmap.  Relocating Marine Corps aviation assets as outlined above will allow the US to return the land at the Futenma Air Base faster and at substantially less expense than the current plan for the Replacement Facility at Camp Schwab.  Additionally, it is imperative that we pursue every opportunity to avoid unnecessary and unaffordable costs to the US taxpayer.  Money saved by abandoning the Camp Schwab FRF could be applied to new projects in the revised realignment plan following negotiations with the Government of Japan to formulate a new cost-sharing agreement.

This option would keep our military forces in the region, would greatly reduce the timing of the sensitive political issues surrounding Futenma, could save billions in costs that would have gone into the offshore facility at Camp Schwab, would reduce the American footprint on Okinawa, and potentially could result in the return of more land to the Okinawan people if the size of the ammunition storage area at Kadena could be reduced.

Okinawa / Guam

The issues related to downsizing the US presence on Okinawa and transferring some of these functions to Guam are militarily complex, potentially costly, and politically sensitive.  The US and Japanese governments have been working for fifteen years to come up with an acceptable formula.  A general framework has now been agreed upon, whereby the US will relocate many of its bases from the populous southern end of Okinawa, moving some forces to the less populous north and also rebasing 8,000 US Marines on Guam.  However, a stalemate has ensued, with many in Okinawa growing intransigent and, to a lesser extent, many on Guam losing their enthusiasm.

On Okinawa, the most difficult issue regards the long-standing dilemma of relocating the US Marine Corps air facility at Futenma, now operating in a highly populated section of the island and the subject of numerous protests.  The Marine Corps insists that any relocation must remain on Okinawa due to the unique air / ground partnership that is characteristic of Marine Corps operations.  One option – moving Marine Corps helicopter and other functions from Futenma to nearby Kadena Air Force Base – has been opposed because it would bring increased noise levels to Kadena.  Many Okinawans, including many leaders, are adamant that the facility should be relocated off-island.

The present compromise reached between the US government and the Government of Japan calls for the construction of a contiguous, partially offshore replacement facility to the far north at Camp Schwab.  The US government and the GOJ seem determined to pursue this option in order to bring final closure to the debate, but it is rife with difficulties.  This would be a massive, multi-billion dollar undertaking, requiring extensive landfill, destruction and relocation of many existing facilities, and in a best-case scenario, several years of effort – some estimate that the process could take as long as ten years.  Moreover, the recent earthquake and tsunami around Sendai in the north of Japan is creating an enormous burden on the Japanese economy and will require years of reconstruction.

On Guam, environmental issues have not been resolved, and many community leaders are concerned that local communities and facilities would be overwhelmed by any large increase in our military presence.  Their clear message is that federal money would be necessary to build up infrastructure outside of the bases in a manner commensurate with an increase in the bases themselves.  Although several issues are being debated related to firing ranges on Guam and training activities on places like Tinian, the principal issue for military planners involves whether to relocate families along with the 8,000 Marines who would be assigned to that island or to configure the Marines mostly as deployed units rotating into and out of Guam from a home base such as Hawaii or Camp Pendleton.  This distinction would make a strong difference in terms of infrastructure costs for schools, medical, recreational facilities, and housing.  A good estimate is that 8,000 Marines would become 23,000 Americans if family members were included.

It should also be noted that Guam’s Anderson Air Force Base is a large, under-utilized facility.  Mindful that B-52 missions were conducted continuously there in the 1970s, we estimate that Anderson Air Force Base is now operating at less than half of its capacity.

Observations:

Korea

1. We are not confident that the proposed basing realignment in Korea is proceeding from an operational posture that fits our future role in Korea and the region writ large.  Unlike any other “permanent” posturing of US forces abroad, our military forces in Korea are justified in terms of “local defense” – in other words, the defense of South Korea against an attack from the north.  By contrast, our forces in Okinawa and Germany are considered to be available for multiple contingencies throughout their regions and beyond.  

This reality calls into question their size, positioning, and compatibility with the South Korean military.  Thus, the credibility of our commitment to the defense of Korea should not be measured by the simple number of our troops, but by the specific missions that they perform.  In that regard, we recommend a stringent review of their present missions to examine which are redundant, or capable of being performed by the South Korean military, and which are unique to the special capabilities of our own.

2. The ongoing construction of facilities at Camp Humphreys has been taking place through three separate funding mechanisms, only one of which seems to have been subject to careful review by the Congress.  First, the South Korean government has been funding “one for one” replacement facilities for the transplacement of US bases in Seoul.  Second, the US Commanding General seems to have had wide latitude in approving projects from discretionary funds under his control.  And third, future projects, especially those related to the reconfiguration of combat units now on or near the DMZ, will be funded through specific appropriations and thus should receive closer scrutiny by Congress.  In some respects this scrutiny is at risk because the momentum from the projects already underway threatens the ability of the Congress to properly examine issues related to the size, functioning and capabilities of US forces that were raised in the above paragraph.

Additionally, the estimated costs for relocations to Camp Humphreys are growing substantially.  It is unclear how they will be distributed and whether the Republic of Korea’s share of costs is over and above its total direct financial contribution to support US troops in ways not contemplated when the relocation agreement was adopted.  In today’s fiscal environment, we must achieve cost savings and identify cost avoidances in current and planned military construction projects.    

We recommend that the proposed restructuring of US forces in South Korea be placed on hold until the review mentioned above has taken place.

3. The US commander in Korea has decided that the number of American family members and civilians be dramatically increased under a process known as “tour normalization.”  This process, which would convert almost all US military assignments in Korea from “deployed” status, without family members, to “accompanied” status, would drive up housing, medical, school, recreational, and other infrastructure costs.  We are not convinced of the arguments that have been used to support this concept.  Nor have we seen clear, measurable data that properly calculates the cost.

We question the analysis that has been used to support the decision to pursue tour normalization.  There is an inherent contradiction in planning to increase the number of U.S. military family members in South Korea when there is the real potential that a destabilizing security situation in North Korea could unfold rapidly and unpredictably.

We recommend that this proposal be the subject of further, careful review.