70. Telegram From the Embassy in Japan to the Department of State1

4365. 1. A number of factors have combined to indicate that now is the time to take a careful look at the disposition of U.S. air units in Japan with a view to the situation we desire or expect to see develop over the next five years. Consideration of where we will be five years from now will provide us a framework within which actions can be taken during the intervening period on a planned basis and with an objective in mind.

Rational debate on matters of security and defense has become possible in Japan in the last half year to extent that would not have been considered probable previously. Govt and Liberal Democratic Party have begun vigorous campaign to educate people on need for defense. Third CCNE has been significant factor in making people consider, many for the first time, that Chicoms pose actual threat to Japan. While most of this debate has been on conservative side, Democratic Socialist Party has also been involved and even Socialist Party has under consideration a new policy on security that would recognize need for maintaining self-defense forces, and by implication U.S.-Japan security treaty, even after such time as JSP might win power.2
Rising national pride and self-confidence together with increased interest in defense and regard for self-defense forces have produced [Page 139] indications that Japan will desire, over the next several years, to replace, to extent possible, American military air presence in Tokyo–Kanto plains area with Japanese units. This was theme of recent remarks to Ambassador of LDP Diet member Nakasone, who strongly supported continuation of security treaty after 1960 [1970] but stressed rising feeling of national pride dictated that Japan should provide own defense for capital area. Nakasone said that creation of Japanese strike force for mainland targeting was not beyond possibility, and that Japan could afford costs involved. Said that Prime Minister Sato had reacted favorably to his suggestions along these lines, and that he had discussed them with General Harris in Honolulu. Similar ideas were expressed to Ambassador by officials of Foreign Ministry and Defense Agency in private meeting on April 18 (memcon sent Dept, CINCPAC and COMUSJ).3
Problem of new international airport for Tokyo area has become acute. Foreign Ministry North American Bureau Director Yasukawa told Deputy Chief of Mission that even if decision made to proceed immediately with construction at proposed Tomisato site in Chiba prefecture, it would be ten years before airport could be operational. Embassy officers agree construction time Tomisato would be minimum of 5 years, maximum of ten years, after decision made, which does not seem imminent now because of political difficulties. In meantime, Yasukawa said, Haneda is becoming crowded and will be saturated by [garble—1971?] five years before first date by which he expected Tomisato could be in operation. Emergency expansion of some nearby airfield not now in sustained use did not appear feasible because of interference with flight patterns at Haneda and military fields. Yasukawa said that those in govt concerned with defense did not favor asking U.S. to give up an airfield in Tokyo area or share such a field for civilian use, but that situation may well develop when govt will be compelled to make such a request. Newspapers have reported in last few days that this may be one of matters brought up by Japanese side at forthcoming cabinet level economic conference.
Circumstances are about to reduce on-board U.S. air strength in Japan to new low. Itazuke has been on DOB status for several years; most of Marine air strength at Iwakuni has been in Vietnam for some time, and one of two last fighter squadrons has just departed for 60-day TDY in Taiwan; F–100 and F–101 squadrons will shortly leave Misawa for Southeast Asia, which will leave that field with only one squadron of F–100s; with departure of 18 F–105s from Yokota, three remaining understrength F–105 squadrons (18 aircraft each instead of [Page 140] 24) will be sole major U.S. air units there;4 other two major fields, Tachikawa and Atsugi (Navy), are used principally for administrative, logistic, transient and reconnaissance aircraft. Only expected additions are possible return of marine squadron from Taiwan after TDY and possible assignment F–102 squadron from CONUS to Misawa late summer.

2. Embassy believes that coincidence of D. above with other three factors make this the time for U.S. Govt to take a realistic look at what air units we expect to have in Japan over next five years, and where they ought to be located. At present we are concentrated in the area of highest population density and political sensitivity around the capital city of Tokyo. There are problems with jet noise, highly desirable land, national image, etc. which are more significant here than in other parts of Japan away from major urban centers. Actions which we might take now or over the next year or two to change this situation would result in helpful public reactions which would in turn pay off in terms of popular attitudes leading up to 1970 period, which will be critical for the continuation of the security treaty. Implementation of the idea that Japan should be responsible for air activities (including primarily air defense) around its capital would be a contribution to the growth of defense-mindeness at a time when attitudes on defense particularly critical.

3. There has been a down trend in the strength of our air units in Japan over the years, occasioned not by demands from Japan but by economy-mindedness on part of U.S. and higher priority needs for air units elsewhere. Our capability for air defense contribution has been small since removal of F–102s in 1964. If trend continues, we may well have no tactical aircraft stationed in Japan five or ten year hence. If this is likely probability, then we ought to begin talking with Japanese soon about effect this will have on need to retain facilities. Even at present time. For instance, Embassy sees no military reasons for considering Tokyo area optimum base for F–105s or similar aircraft, which are targeted against areas outside of Japan, while there are strong political and economic reasons why their being based in this area will be a growing [Page 141] liability in the next few years. There are, of course, ample reasons (principally cost of preparing alternative facilities elsewhere) why it is not easy to pick up and move, but we ought to be thinking ahead.

4. Embassy therefore recommends that State–Defense study be begun as soon as feasible on future air posture of U.S. forces in Japan.5 This should include consideration of degree to which we expect Japan to take over air defense and whether we should try to retain some part of air defense responsibility; what kinds of air units, in addition to air defense units, if any, we want to maintain in Japan as of 1971 and perhaps 1976; what would be optimum location of such units from military point of view; what administrative facilities, including airfields for administrative and logistic use, will be needed, and where should they be located, etc. Study should be done from point of view of military desirability without allowance for costs involved; political and domestic Japanese economic considerations should then be taken into account and, as final step, study should be made joint with GOJ. It would then be for GOJ, seeing our long-term military needs and applying political and economic considerations, to determine relative merits to it of moves from present-held facilities to other ones and costs that would involved therein, which we would expect Japan to bear in proper proportion.

5. Thus to make our long-range plans in conjunction with GOJ would, in Embassy opinion, be far better than allowing long-range policy in the end to be determined by day-to-day decisions made for short-term or operational reasons. Long-range plan, agreed to by Japan, would provide rational framework for solution of locally troublesome problems such as Mito Range, joint use of airports, noise, etc. Moreover, this approach would give us the maximum benefit in terms of impact on Japanese defense thinking and public attitudes towards defense in general and the security relationship with the U.S. in particular.

6. Embassy realizes that matters such as progress of Vietnam war make it difficult to arrive at decisions now on questions five or ten years hence. This should not, however, deter us from doing the best we can and coming up now with the best plan we can make for the [Page 142] future use of air facilities in Japan. To do otherwise may well mean that our future capabilities will be determined by other factors beyond our control, resulting in a lessened value to the U.S. of our air bases in Japan and unnecessary strains in our defense and political relations with Japan.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 15 JAPAN–US. Secret; Limdis. Repeated to CINCPAC and COMUSJAPAN.
  2. Additional documentation on the U.S.-Japanese dialogue on defense issues and the Security Treaty is ibid., DEF 4 JAPAN–US.
  3. A memorandum of this conversation has not been found.
  4. The Military Airlift Command (MAC) of the U.S. Air Force planned an extensive expansion of the Yokota base costing an estimated $7 million over 2 to 3 years to transform it into a transit station on the polar air route between the United States and Southeast Asia. MAC Headquarters in Illinois apparently saw the Embassy’s suggestion to return the air base to Japan as due, at least in part, to Reischauer’s desire “to make some meaningful gesture to the Japanese prior to his departure from that post and return to Harvard.” (Letter from Murray E. Jackson, Political Adviser, Military Airlift Command, to Captain Asbury Coward, Politico-Military Affairs, June 10; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, DEF 15 JAPAN–US)
  5. By June 16 the Department of Defense was actively considering the proposal, and McNamara had requested from the JCS information about the strength of personnel and equipment in Japan and the purposes they served. (Memorandum from William L. Givens to Captain Coward, June 16; ibid; and memorandum from McNamara to the Chairman of the JCS, June 16; Washington National Records Center, OSD/OASD/ISA Files, FRC 330 70 A 4662, Japan 370.02) In addition, a U.S. Air Force study analyzing Japan’s air defense capabilities and future development was issued in mid-1966. (Analysis of the Japanese Air Defense with Options for Improvement (1967–1972), July 15; ibid., FRC 330 70 A 4443, Japan 373.24)