Overseas Presence:

Issues Involved in Reducing the Impact of the U.S. Military Presence on Okinawa

NSIAD-98-66: Published: Mar 2, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the contents of the Final Report of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), focusing on: (1) the impact on readiness of U.S. forces based on Okinawa after implementation of the report recommendations; (2) the U.S. cost of implementing the recommendations; and (3) the benefit or necessity of having U.S. Marine Corps forces on Okinawa.

GAO noted that: (1) the Department of Defense (DOD) believes that Marine Corps forces along with other U.S. forces on Okinawa satisfy the U.S. national security strategy by visibly demonstrating the U.S. commitment to security in the region; (2) these forces are thought to deter aggression, provide a crisis response capability should deterrence fail, and avoid the risk that U.S. allies may interpret the withdrawal of forces as a lessening of U.S. commitment to peace and stability in the region; (3) Okinawa's proximity to potential regional trouble spots promotes the early arrival of U.S. military forces due to shorter transit times and reduces potential problems that could arise due to late arrival; (4) the cost of this presence is shared by the government of Japan, which provides bases and other infrastructure on Okinawa rent-free and pays part of the annual cost of Okinawa-based Marine Corps forces; (5) the SACO Final Report calls on the United States to: (a) return land that includes one base and portions of camps, sites, and training areas on Okinawa to Japan; (b) implement changes to three operational procedures; and (c) implement changes to five noise abatement procedures; (6) the United States has established requirements that Japan must meet as it designs, builds, and pays for the sea-based facility before the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is closed and operations are moved to the sea-based facility; (7) such a facility has never been built and operated; (8) annual operations and maintenance costs for the sea-based facility were initially estimated at $200 million; (9) the United States requested that the Japanese government pay the cost to maintain the new sea-based facility, but as of the date of this report, it had not agreed to do so; (10) excluding the cost to operate the sea-based facility, the current estimated cost to the United States to implement the SACO land return recommendations is about $193.5 million over about 10 years; (11) the United States and Japan are negotiating an arrangement under which Japan would assume some SACO-related responsibilities consistent with their domestic laws; (12) this arrangement could result in reduced U.S. costs; (13) while final implementation of the SACO recommendations is intended to reduce the burden of U.S. forces' presence in Okinawa, two environmental issues could arise; (14) the first issue concerns the potential for environmental contamination being found on military facilities returned to Japan and responsibility for cleanup of those facilities; and (15) the second issue concerns the potential adverse effects that the construction and operation of the sea-based facility could have on the environment.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Implementation of the SACO agenda is an ongoing process and will continue until completed, 7 to 10 years hence.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should decide on the means to monitor the design, engineering, and construction of the sea-based facility.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with recommendation and will continue to pursue this with the Japanese government.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should work with Japan to include a risk-reduction phase in the acquisition schedule to establish that the designed sea-based facility will be affordable and operationally suitable.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with recommendation and will continue to pursue implementation of the recommendation as the SACO agenda is implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should take steps to ensure that all U.S. concerns, especially the costs of operations and maintenance on the sea-based facility and operational concerns, have been satisfactorily addressed before Japan begins to build the sea-based facility.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD will pursue this recommendation as the SACO agreements are implemented. It is an ongoing process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should request the Japanese government to allocate funds for those projects at Futenma that were cancelled by Japan due to the planned closure of Futenma and are deemed essential to continue operations of the station and the 1st Marine Air Wing until completion of the replacement facility.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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