Naval Air Facility Atsugi
|Operator|| United States Navy|
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
|Location||Kanagawa Prefecture Japan|
|In use||1938–1945, 1950–present|
|Commander||Captain Lloyd B. "Chilly" Mack|
|Elevation AMSL||205 ft / 62 m|
|Website||Naval Air Facility Atsugi Website|
Naval Air Facility Atsugi (厚木海軍飛行場 Atsugi Kaigun-hikōjō) (IATA: NJA, ICAO: RJTA) is a naval air base located in the cities of Yamato and Ayase in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. It is the largest United States Navy (USN) air base in the Pacific Ocean and houses the squadrons of Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5), which deploys with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
During 2017 and 2018 the fixed-wing aircraft of CVW-5 are relocating to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in western Japan.
CVW-5 shares the base with the Headquarters Fleet Air Force and Fleet Air Wing 4 of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). NAF Atsugi is also home to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51 (HSM-51), which provides detachments of MH-60R helicopters to forward deployed U.S. Navy guided missile cruisers, guided missile destroyers and frigates homeported at the nearby Yokosuka Naval Base. Service members stationed at Atsugi also work in conjunction with the former Kamiseya Naval Radio Receiving Facility.
The Imperial Japanese Navy constructed the base in 1938 to house the 302nd Kokutai, one of the Navy's most formidable fighter squadrons during World War II. Aircraft based at Atsugi shot down more than 300 American bombers during the firebombings of 1945. After Japan's surrender, many of Atsugi's pilots refused to follow Hirohito's order to lay down their arms, and took to the skies to drop leaflets on Tokyo and Yokohama urging locals to resist the Americans. Eventually, these pilots gave up and left Atsugi.
General Douglas MacArthur arrived at Atsugi on 30 August to accept Japan's surrender. Shortly afterwards, elements of the USAAF 3d Bombardment Group moved in about 8 September, being replaced by the USAAF 49th Fighter Group on 15 September which handled the initial cleanup of the heavily damaged airfield along with the 1539th Army Air Forces Base Unit to provide station facilities. Minimal flight operations were restored by October which allowed the P-61 Black Widow-equipped 418th Night Fighter Squadron to operate from the airfield to provide air defense over the area, along with the P-38 Lightnings of the 49th FG. The 49th moved to Chitose Airfield on Hokkaido in mid February 1946, the 418th NFS to Okinawa in June, and on 31 December 1946 the 1539th AAFBU moved to Haneda Airfield.
During the occupation, the base housed the overflow from nearby Camp Zama; it was not refurbished to handle military air traffic until the Korean War. The Seabees (Navy construction battalions) came to the base in 1950 and prepared it for re-opening that December as Naval Air Station Atsugi.
One of the aircraft based at Atsugi at least since 1957 was the U-2 spy plane. The plane made local Japanese headlines when it ran low on fuel and made an emergency landing at a glider-club landing strip. This same plane was piloted by Gary Powers, which provoked an international incident when it was downed over the Soviet Union.
Lee Harvey Oswald was based at Atsugi during his time in the United States Marines. He was a radar operator assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron 1. He was stationed there from September 1957 to November 1958.
In 1964 a United States Marine Corps F8U-2 Crusader based at the airfield crashed in nearby Machida, Tokyo. The pilot ejected and was not seriously injured, but the crash killed four and injured 32 people on the ground and destroyed seven houses.
In 1969 an EC-121 aircraft of VQ-1 that took off from Atsugi on a reconnaissance mission near North Korea was shot down by a North Korean MiG-21. This led then-president Nixon to order a tactical nuclear strike on North Korea, which ultimately did not take place. The reconnaissance flights resumed a week later.
In 1972, the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to share ownership of the base, after which the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force began operating from there.
On 2 November 1976, a US Navy Grumman C-1 Trader, piloted by Lt. Laury K. Backman, suffered a mechanical failure of the aileron system while maneuvering to land on runway 01, and crashed short of the runway. All six aboard were killed.
In 1977, a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II based at the facility suffered a mechanical failure and crashed into a residential neighborhood in nearby Yokohama. The crew ejected and survived, but two young boys, aged 1 and 3, were killed and 7 others injured.
In 9 February 1999 a fire broke out at a terminal, no injuries were reported.
On 3 April 2003 a faction of the leftist group Kakurōkyō attacked the facility with improvised mortar fire. Around the same time the same group also attacked Yokota Air Base and the National Defence Agency.
On 14 November 2009 a fire in Hangar 183 at the base injured three Japanese employees of Obayashi Corporation. The fire was reported at 11:55 a.m. and was extinguished by 12:45 p.m. The hangar was moderately damaged.
In December 2009, Atsugi was again attacked by leftist extremists via improvised mortar barrages.
Personnel and aircraft from the base assisted with Operation Tomodachi following and during the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and Fukushima I nuclear accidents. During the crisis, around 2,000 American family members voluntarily departed the base for locations outside Japan.
In December 2016 police arrested a Kawasaki man for pointing a laser pointer at JMSDF aircraft in July of the same year. It was reported that in 2016 there had been about 30 reports of laser pointers being directed at Japanese and US aircraft.
A Grumman C-2A Greyhound assigned to VRC-30 aboard the USS Ronald Reagan was lost in an accident at sea on 22 November 2017. Three of the personnel on board were lost. After this a detachment of 4-6 US Marine Corps Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft were deployed to Atsugi for a week to fly supplies to the USS Ronald Reagan.
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Atsugi is named after the nearby city of Atsugi despite not actually being in Atsugi (it is separated from Atsugi by two other cities).
The name was chosen because Atsugi was the only large town in the area as of 1950, and the three farming villages surrounding the base at that time—Yamato Village, Ayase Village and Shibuya Village—shared names with better-known areas elsewhere in Japan. Yamato is an alternative name for the Nara region, Ayase is generally associated with the area around Ayase Station in northeast Tokyo, and Shibuya is generally associated with the ward of Shibuya in central Tokyo.
The Jinkanpo Incinerator
NAF Atsugi and the people stationed there gained notoriety in the 1990s (stemming from near-daily reports in the Pacific Stars and Stripes newspaper) due to their proximity to the Jinkanpo Atsugi Incinerator, which blew toxic and cancerous emissions over the high-rise buildings in its immediate vicinity. The incinerator's owners, arrested and jailed for charges of tax evasion, neglected the maintenance of the facility. The pollution had become so much of a health problem for residents that if they showed signs of adverse health effects, the base allowed them to leave early (usually servicemembers are stationed at the base for a tour of three years). Many servicemembers reported sickness and a few died from cancer shortly after moving back to the United States. For a time, the base required servicemembers to undergo medical screenings before being stationed at the base in order to ensure that their bodies could handle the poor air quality. In spite of this, servicemembers still developed health problems, such as acute cases of asthma.
The US government's Department of Justice sued the incinerator operators. In May 2001, just before the court was to hand down its decision, the Japanese government purchased the plant for nearly 40 million dollars and shut it down. Dismantling was completed by the end of that year.
Since 1976 there have been a number of lawsuits with local residents sued the Japanese government over noise from the base, and in October 2002 the Yokohama district court ruled that the government should pay 2.75 billion yen in compensation. Both the plaintiffs and the government appealed the case and in July 2006 the Tokyo High Court ordered the government to pay 4.04 billion yen to 4,865 people living near the base.
The fourth lawsuit over noise was filed in 2007 in the Yokohama District Court. In May 2014 the court ruled that the SDF should not operate its aircraft between 10pm to 6am and that the government should pay ¥7 billion yen in damages. It was the first lawsuit to request the grounding of US military aircraft. This request was rejected by the court.
The ruling was appealed, and in its July 2015 ruling the Tokyo High Court gave ¥9.4 billion to around 6,900 residents from eight cities, increasing the payout from the ¥7 billion yen ordered by the Yokohama district court. The Tokyo court also rejected calls to forbid night flights by US aircraft, arguing that the Japan-US security treaty is beyond the government's jurisdiction. In this it was following a Supreme Court ruling on the 1976 case, where the court ruled that the Japanese government has no power to regulate the activities of US forces in the country.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court and in December 2016 Japan's Supreme Court overturned the ban on SDF night flights. It upheld the damages awarded by the Tokyo High Court. The plaintiffs planned to file a fifth lawsuit as soon as February 2017.
Organizing by residents continued and in July 2017 it was reported that there were plans for around 6,000 local people to launch the fifth lawsuit against the government regarding noise from the base. Shuji Onami, leader of the plaintiffs, stated "Our lives are disrupted and are even put at risk whenever we are hit with booming noise (from aircraft) overhead. We will never accept the reality of the Atsugi base-related flights." It was also reported that 2,000 to 3,000 additional residents may also join the action at a later time.
As of August 2017 6,063 nearby residents had joined the lawsuit.
Protests and complaints
In addition to the lawsuits over noise there have been a number of protests regarding the base. In July 1988 20,000 people made a human chain around the base to protest noisy night landings at the base.
In 2013 the JCP also protested after a USN MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from Atsugi crashed in Miura city, and asked that Bell Boeing V-22 Ospreys not be deployed to Atsugi. When Ospreys were sent to the base for training this also caused local protests.
There were complaints in 2017 after children were allowed to touch machine guns on US helicopters during the May 2017 open day at Atsugi. City authorities from Ayase and Yamato cities complained, after which the machine guns were quickly removed.
During Spring Atsugi holds an open day. Non-Japanese visitors may be turned away from the gates for security reasons. Prospective attendees who are neither Japanese or American should bring identification and also consult the Third Country National list to see if they require special approval to enter the base.
There was an "Atsugi WINGS" air show held until the year 2000, featuring the "diamond of diamonds" display by formations of US Navy aircraft. This was last held in the year 2000. There were many complaints about aircraft noise and low-flying planes, and from 2001 onwards full-fledged flying displays were not held during the open day. Currently there is a ground display of US Navy and JMSDF aircraft, as well as take-offs and landings by various aircraft, including touch-and-go landing practice.
Carrier Air Wing Five
Atsugi hosts part of Carrier Air Wing Five, part of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan's air component. The wing includes about 70 aircraft and 2,000 military personnel who are stationed at Atsugi when the carrier is in port at Yokosuka. On 9 May 2008 the wing commander, Captain Michael P. McNellis, was relieved of command by Rear Admiral Richard B. Wren, commander of Commander Task Force 70, after the admiral said he lost confidence in McNellis' ability to command. McNellis was replaced by Captain Michael S. White. In 2012 the squadrons of CVW 5 completed their transition to variants of the Super Hornet/Growler, making it the first air wing without legacy Hornets.
Relocation to Iwakuni
Since at least 2005 there have been plans to relocate Carrier Air Wing Five's approximately 60 fixed wing aircraft from Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture. Yamaguchi governor Sekinari Nii said there was "no way" Yamaguchi prefecture would accept this. In 2006 Iwakuni voters rejected the plan in a plebiscite and Iwakuni mayor Katsusuke Ihara urged Tokyo to drop the plan. In 2007 the Japanese government passed legislation to prepare for the relocation of US Forces in Japan including subsidies for local affected areas.
The plan was for the move to take place in stages and be completed in May 2018. The move did not include the wing's approximately 20 helicopters.
The move began in August 2017 with the five E-2D Hawkeye aircraft of VAW-125 relocating to Iwakuni after the USS Ronald Reagan's summer 2017 patrol. Around 3800 personnel are expected to move to Iwakuni.
By 28 November three more squadrons relocated after the Ronald Reagan's second patrol of 2017. The new squadrons were the F/A-18E Super Hornet-equipped VFA-115 and VFA-195 and the EA-18G Growler-equipped VAQ-141. Fleet Logistics Support Squadron VRC-30 also relocated to MCASI by December 2017.
Maritime Self Defence Force
- Fleet Air Wing 4, Air Patrol Squadron 3 (Lockheed P-3C Orion) (Kawasaki P-1)
- Air Transport Squadron 61 (Lockheed C-130R Hercules) (LC-90)
- Air Development Squadron 51 (P-1 & UP-1, P-3C & UP-3C Orion, SH-60J/K & USH-60K Seahawk)
As of 2018, the US Navy tenant commands at NAF Atsugi are:
- Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 77 Saberhawks (MH-60R Seahawk) (to remain at Atsugi, will not relocate to Iwakuni)
- Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 Golden Falcon (MH-60S Seahawk) (to remain at Atsugi, will not relocate to Iwakuni)
Izumi no Mori, a nature park operated by the city of Yamato, is located near the base.
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