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By Gerardo R. Partido

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 29) – The latest estimate of the cost of moving 6,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam now stands at US$9 billion.

The Japan Times, citing U.S. military sources, reported over the weekend that the U.S. Pacific Command now estimates that it will take at least US$9 billion to equip Guam for the arrival of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force from Okinawa.

Japan is expected to shoulder a substantial part of the cost for the relocation, which the two countries agreed on during military realignment talks held earlier.

Tokyo plans to put up the money by making the unprecedented move of enacting a special law to finance the construction of overseas U.S. military facilities because its normal budget would not be able to cover such a huge overlay.

According to the Japan Times sources, Japan’s money will be used to build a new headquarters on Guam for the Marines, as well as new drill sites and hospitals for the unit.

Other construction projects include housing, schools, utility infrastructure and bases in Guam as well as "world-class" training areas not only in Guam but also in the neighboring Northern Marianas.

The relocation of the unit, based in Uruma, Okinawa, was put forward in an interim report on military realignment that Japan and the United States adopted during bilateral security talks held last month.

An earlier estimate of US$3 billion has been deemed too conservative because it was based on a local calculation that Guam’s capacity for carrying out construction work is about US$400 million annually and that the project will take eight to 10 years.

Moreover, U.S. Defense Deputy Undersecretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Lawless has stated that the US$3.5 billion to US$4 billion figure discussed earlier to finance the Marines’ transfer is still a very rough figure and may still be revised upward because the initial estimates looked at a lower number of Marines and a longer timeline.

The relocation plan involves about 6,000 Marines, most from the Marine Expeditionary Force, with the remaining 1,000 to be moved to other areas in Japan.

Meanwhile, the Kyodo news agency is reporting that the latest high-tech, high-speed ships, developed jointly for commercial use by Japanese shipbuilders, are being eyed by the Japanese government to transport the U.S. forces from Okinawa to Guam.

Called the Techno Super Liners, the ships were initially designed to connect Tokyo with Chichijima Island, some 1,000 kilometers away. The new ship cuts one-way travel time from 26 hours to 17 hours.

November 29, 2005

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