2007/03/20

Sharing the Noise

We may be seeing and hearing more military aircraft in the coming months. As I have previously mentioned, our house is about 25km (15.5 mi) from Hyakuri Airbase, home to 2 squadrons of JASDF fighters, as well as a reconnaissance/electronic warfare squadron, trainers attached to each and rescue helicopters. We went by there once to check it out. Pretty Spartan really. Middle of nowhere with just the 8,858 ft runway, a few hangars and the usual ancillary buildings.

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Portion of Tactical Pilot Chart TPC G-11C

To our east, 40 km (25 mi) offshore, there are two areas of "Restricted Airspace"; one extending from the surface to 35,000 ft, the other to 80,000 ft, where the JASDF practice. Presumably, they drill on the detection and engagement of intruders. RF-4E and F-4EJ Phantom IIs are their recon and electronic warfare platforms, Kawasaki T-4 trainers are, I would guess, training newer pilots or acting as the intruders, and the defense fighter is the Mitsubishi built F-15J and F-15DJ(a 2 seat variant). We don't see the RF-4s so often, which is OK, as those old engine designs are very loud at any throttle setting.

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The favored runway at Hyakuri under usual wind conditions is 03 (ie on a heading of 30 degrees), and the jets returning from the practice area fly over us at about 1000 feet on an extended base leg for landing, the low altitude keeps them well under the commercial traffic going into Tokyo International at Narita. The fighters pass over us heading northwest, then hang a right somewhere over Lake Kasumigaura and line up with the runway.

Far, and I mean far (about 1000 miles), to the southwest, in Okinawa Prefecture, the US base at Kadena has been a local bone of contention for decades. Japan regained "independence" in 1951, yet the US has never ended its military presence. When Prime Minister Abe's grandfather on his mother's side, Nobusuke Kishi, Japan's PM from 1957-1960, made a deal with the US for the US-Japanese Security Treaty in 1960, there were riots in the streets of Tokyo. Kishi, by the way, worked with General Tojo in Manchuria where he also ran the illegal drug trade, during WWII was Tojo's Minister of Munitions and Industry, and after the war was held as a Class A war Criminal (he even signed the order to attack the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor). He escaped prosecution and was released in 1948 thanks to the cold war.

Okinawa has felt the brunt of that security treaty, partly due to its strategic position with respect to Korea, China, and Taiwan, but mostly the fact that at the time it was STILL being governed by the US. Ironic as well because the Ryukyu Islands, of which Okinawa is but one, used to be an independent monarchy, the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had its own culture and language until Japan took it by force in 1869 (an act in which President Grant played a pivotal role) and called it Okinawa Prefecture. After World War II it was governed by the US until handed it back to Japan in 1972.

Many of the people there (including the governor) are fed up with the high crime rate, safety issues, and aircraft noise that the base has brought (along with the 13 other US military installations on the little island, which is only 2/3 the size of Maui), and that tension recently played a major part in the negotiated "realignment" of the US military in Japan. In an effort to ease the noise impact on Okinawans of US-Japanese fighter drills, there has been an agreement reached to distribute the drills to six bases spread out over the length of Japan. Sort of a "share the noise" plan. This move is about taking some pressure off the USA in Okinawa so that the US can continue to project its power in this region with as little local resistance as possible until Japan can be re-militarized itself - a project near and dear to PM Abe's heart, but not so popular with the citizenry.

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Some of the drills will now take off from - (insert diminished 7th chord here, as Moody Minstrel would say) Hyakuri Air Base. I have no idea how often this will happen. US planes will not be based there, but will fly in from Okinawa whenever they run the drills (US fuel guzzling tax dollars at work). I will also be interested to see if they utilize any of the new F-22 Raptor fighters recently based at Kadena.

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F-22 Raptors

Though we are under the flight path (very close anyway) of returning planes, they are usually throttled back and not making a huge amount of racket. They come by anywhere from a few to several days a week, and the number of aircraft and number of sorties varies as well. I'm not anticipating a big change, but if they pick up the frequency of flights a lot it could become annoying. We'll see.

Of course, if they just want to put on an air show and do aerobatics over the house, I'd be all for that.

Trivia - The Marine Corps base on Okinawa is named for General Smedley D Butler, who (more irony) was an isolationist at the time of his death in 1940.

7 comments:

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

I do no share your passion for aeroplanes but I know what that kind of noise is like. The Avalon Air Show is on this week and what a din in our skies in the Geelong region! They are showing off the latest in war-game planes and though some people (I guess mainly men) admire these powerful objects, I shudder and try not to think about their purpose. It's four years on since the invasion of Iraq and that is also on my mind.
w.

Pandabonium said...

Wendy - to a large degree, I am with you on this. I love airplanes, and flying, but for the pure joy of flight. My favorite air performers are civilians.

My only interest in watching military aircraft is to see a machine that flies and to watch a pilot demonstrate his/her skill at it. But I never forget, nor condone their destructive purpose.

nzm said...

Another interesting post PB.

Is the Japanese public gullible enough to think that redistribution of the drills plus the "re-militarization" of Japan will diminish or enhance the US presence?

Will the US allow Japan to fully defend itself ever again? (Even Germany has not been allowed to do that according to the treaty signed with the US after WWII) Too much at stake here for them to do that. They need the Japanese bases to be close to Korea at the moment.

Everytime we were in Tokyo, we saw protests in the streets about the US Okinawa bases.

I'm the same as you - love the planes, am awed at their power, but saddened at the destruction that they can cause.

If you have a few moments, go to You Tube and search for "French Air Force". Those guys are truly cowboys!

My favourite clip is only 12 secs long and of a very lowflying tanker plane waking up the camp in Chad!

See here

Pandabonium said...

NZM - good questions... I'm preparing for an outing tomorrow, so sorry if I don't give your questions the depth of answer deserved, but off the cuff:

1) No, the Japanese public is not gullible. The spreading out of drills is just to placate the Okinawans who have been making an increasing fuss about their backyard being the US military playground. In the last few years, as the US has tried realign its forces, this has proved a very big obstacle. Spreading the noise does in fact give the Okinawans some relief that the US can point to.

Re-militarization is not popular and no one believes it would lead to US withdrawal from Japan (pardon my overstatement), but from a US Empire perspective it would lessen the load, give the US much more latitude in its basing requirements, and is actively supported by the present US administration as well as the Abe government.

2) The US will probably never leave Japan entirely, but if Japan changes its constitution it can take a more pro-active (a twisted use of that term) part in the power play in far east asia. The US Empire is pushing Germany and Japan to do as much of its bidding as possible (an example is US pressure for Germany to send aircraft to Afghanistan, which it recently did do). A militarized Japan would give the US more flexibility in its deployments in this region.

I'm only offering observations about what I think is going on, not saying here what I think 'should be' in any way shape or form.

thanks for the youtube suggestions - I'll check them out.

March 20, 2007 8:21 PM

The Moody Minstrel said...

I live even closer to that base than you do (only about a fifteen minute drive from my house), and those planes often come in quite low. As an avid aviation buff, I'm not really complaining...though they do sometimes present an annoyance when I'm trying to record. I know the jets are quite a nuisance to some of the schools in the surrounding area.

When I first came here back in 1990 I mainly saw (R)F-4Js flying around here (deep rumble, lots of smoke), but now I mainly see F-15s and T-4s (high whine, clean). The F-15s usually fly in flights of two or three, sometimes in very close formation, whereas the T-4s are usually solo. Once I saw what looked like a trio of F-16s come in, which made me wonder.

It would be cool to see Raptors coming here.

Martin J Frid said...

nzm, there are peace demonstrations all around Japan Wednesday March 21 (a national holiday).

People want the "Self Defence Forces" out of the Middle East and they do not want the Peace Constitution to be altered.

Interesting post, I had no idea there was so much noise pollution in them thar woods...

ladybug said...

I can't say I'm a fan of airshows, there's always one during Rose Festival at the airport right by our house (not PDX, Hillsboro). It's loud, but since there was a crash last year (it ruined two houses, but only the pilot was killed, no injuries), perhaps they'll won't do it this year.

As for US militarization, I can only say I wish we could invest in domestic education and healthcare instead - I've been voting that way all my life, but money seems to talk louder at the Pentagon.