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The Asahi Shimbun/2019/11/8 16:10
http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201911080037.html

Fighter pilots’ antics reveal lax discipline, put safety at risk

Incredible violations of the code of discipline have apparently run rampant among members of a fighter jet unit at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
It has been revealed that pilots performed risky stunts during training flights, such as reading books and snapping selfies with their oxygen masks off their faces. There have also been cases of drug abuse and excessive alcohol consumption. The revelations have shown outrageous disregard for safety.
These cases of misbehavior were discovered because of a mid-air collision in December between an FA-18 fighter jet from the Iwakuni unit and a KC-130 air tanker off the coast of Kochi Prefecture during nighttime training. The aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing six people.
A Marine Corps’ report published in September pointed out lax discipline as factors behind the accident. Four Marine officers were fired as a result.
The Marine Corps should immediately conduct inspections to check whether other units are plagued by similar problems.
As part of the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan, some 60 carrier-borne aircraft of the USS Ronald Reagan strike group were transferred from Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture to the Iwakuni base by spring 2018.
The relocation has increased to more than 120 the number of U.S. aircraft based in Iwakuni, making the air base almost equal in air power to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, often described as one of the largest U.S. air bases in the Far East.
The transfer has doubled the number of serious cases of noise pollution around the Iwakuni base. When the aircraft carrier leaves the naval base in Yokosuka, in particular, many midnight takeoffs and landings occur at the base.
The latest revelations of U.S. fighter pilots’ misconduct have only deepened anger among local residents.
In 2006, a referendum was held in the city of Iwakuni on whether to accept carrier-borne aircraft. Some 90 percent of the voters said no. But the mayor who refused the relocation plan failed to be re-elected after the central government suspended providing subsidies.
The newly elected mayor, Yoshihiko Fukuda, announced his intention to accept the transfer in 2017.
At that time, the Abe administration promised to take steps to prevent noise pollution and ensure safety. It has a duty to ensure that the U.S. forces will take effective measures to prevent such misconduct among Iwakuni pilots.
The Marine Corps report also revealed a collision between an FA-18 Hornet fighter jet and a KC-130 Hercules refueling aircraft off the coast of Okinawa Prefecture in April 2016. But the incident was not reported to Japan.
In 1997, Japan and the United States reached an agreement that commits the U.S. military to report crimes and accidents involving U.S. service members to the Japanese government as soon as possible when they could affect public safety or the environment.
Defense Minister Taro Kono criticized the U.S. military’s failure to report the accident in 2016 to the Japanese government, saying, “They broke the rules.”
Kono’s criticism is totally reasonable, but the U.S. military effectively has discretion over whether and when it reports specific cases to Japan.
Recently, the U.S. military conducted a nighttime parachute drop at Kadena Air Base in violation of a related bilateral agreement concerning U.S. forces operations in Okinawa Prefecture.
If Kono really thinks the current situation is serious, he should issue a stern warning about the insincere attitude of the U.S. military and embark on taking actions to clarify the interpretations of the related agreements and, if necessary, seek reviews to the content and texts of the agreements.
As our editorials have repeatedly argued, at the root of all these problems is the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. The agreement should be revised for greater equality between Japan and the United States so that Japanese authorities can become involved in investigations and research into accidents involving U.S. military personnel.
U.S. military aircraft fly not only in areas near U.S. military bases but all over Japan. The problem should be of concern to the entire Japanese public.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 8


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