U.S. Marines expect to stay in Okinawa's Futenma base 10-15 more yrs

The U.S. Marine Corps expects to use the Futenma Air Station in Japan's southwestern island prefecture of Okinawa for at least another 10 to 15 years, a top Marine officer told a Senate hearing on Thursday amid a stalemate over the base's contentious relocation plan.

"We will be at Futenma for probably the next 10 to 15 years," said Maj. Gen. James Kessler, commander of the Marine Corps Installations Command, indicating that the land used for the base in a populous residential area may be returned to Japan as late as in fiscal 2027 against the bilaterally agreed time frame of "fiscal 2022 or later."

Japan and the United States plan to relocate the Marine base from the crowded city of Ginowan in Okinawa to the less-populated Henoko coastal area in Nago city within the prefecture amid strong opposition from local people who want the base moved out of the prefecture.

In April, the two governments outlined the time frame for the relocation as part of a new agreement for the return of facilities and areas used by U.S. forces on Okinawa, but it fell short of being a firm deadline.

Kessler also pitched for the need to continue support for aging facilities at Futenma to "maintain a level of safety and operational capability" for the next 10 to 15 years.