Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The incoming admiral in charge of more than three dozen P-3 Orion patrol planes, like the one shown above, will move his headquarters from Kaneohe Bay to Japan.

Isles keep naval
air units for now

4 patrol squadrons eventually
may move to Japan to join
their departing admiral

A Navy patrol and reconnaissance command that generates an estimated $84 million annually to Hawaii's economy will stay at Kaneohe for now, despite a Pentagon report that its commander will relocate to Japan.

The Pentagon announced two weeks ago that Rear Adm. Kenneth Deutsch is being assigned as the new boss of Pacific Fleet's Patrol and Reconnaissance Force and commander of Task Force 32.

However, instead of saying the admiral's new job will be in Kaneohe, where the squadron has been for the past four years, the announcement said that Deutsch is being assigned to Misawa in Aomori prefecture in Japan.

The command includes more than 60 P-3C Orion subhunters and 2,000 sailors, and the announcement did not say whether the aircraft and personnel would follow their commander.

Lt. Mike Morley, Pacific Fleet spokesman, said yesterday he does not know why the Pentagon's announcement was worded in such a manner. All Morley would say was that "there are no plans now to relocate any of the P-3 squadrons at Kaneohe Bay."

But other defense sources confirmed that Deutsch and his staff of about a dozen people will be moved and that it is logical to assume that eventually all of the P-3Cs in Hawaii and at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington will follow the admiral. No timetable was given.

The Mainichi Shimbun said last weekend the change is intended to make Misawa the center of the U.S. intelligence effort fueled by the problems with North Korea.

Morley acknowledged that "at any time, the Navy has several plans concerning placement and most efficient use of forces worldwide."

However, he emphasized that there are no plans to relocate any of the P-3 anti-submarine aircraft and sailors at Kaneohe and Washington to Japan.

In 1999, when the Navy announced that the Patrol and Reconnaissance Forces were being relocated from Barbers Point Naval Air Station to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, officials said the command generated $84 million annually.

But sources suggested that any loss would be offset by other proposed military shifts, which include the possibility of relocating an aircraft carrier and its accompanying air wing to Hawaii as well as rebuilding one the two brigades at the 25th Infantry Division as the Army's latest mobile Stryker brigade.

A decision on the Stryker brigade is due next month, while the Navy has only begun talks with state officials on finding a home for a carrier air wing and its cadre of more than 70 jets.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said he is confident that Schofield Barracks will get the sixth Stryker brigade, which could mean that up to $750 million would be spent here over the next decade, including funding for a new C-17 jet transport wing at Hickam Air Force Base to accommodate the Army's needs.

Deutsch's new command at Kaneohe Bay consists of 60 P-3C Orions belonging to Patrol Squadrons 4, 9 and 47 and Utility Patrol Squadron 2. The capabilities of the four Orion squadrons include anti-submarine warfare, air reconnaissance, aerial mine warfare, air-to-surface missile attack and maritime shipping surveillance and patrols. Missions also include search and rescue and drug interdiction.

Deutsch, who now works for the chief of naval operations, will succeed Rear Adm. Anthony Winns, who also serves as commander of Task Force 32, which, in addition to the four P-3 squadrons at Kaneohe, includes three P-3C squadrons and one squadron of EP-3E Aries reconnaissance aircraft at Whidbey Island. The EP-3E Aries gather electronic data in the Pacific and Indian oceans on other countries' submarines and North Korean ballistic missiles.

In 2001, 24 crew members of an EP-3E from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station were detained for 11 days on China's Hainan island. The crew was held after their EP-3E collided with a Chinese F-8 jet fighter over international waters in the South China Sea on March 31, 2001.


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