National

U.S. to deploy F-35 fighters in western Japan next year

Kyodo

The central government has informed the city of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture that 16 F-35 fighters will be deployed at the U.S. military base in the first half of next year.

It will reportedly be the first overseas deployment of the F-35. High-ranking officials from the Defense and Foreign ministries visited Iwakuni and informed Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda as well as Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka of the plan on Monday. Ten F-35 jets are to be deployed in January, followed by another six in August.

Fukuda told Shunsuke Takei, parliamentary vice foreign minister, and Hiroyuki Miyazawa, parliamentary vice defense minister, that his city was frustrated by the lack of information provided by the central government and called for details to be given to them in a “swift” manner.

“The (F-35) deployment is simply upgrading the type of aircraft and is not linked to the U.S. military realignment” in Japan agreed by Tokyo and Washington in 2006, Takei said during their meeting, which was open to the media.

The Iwakuni base is also expected to accommodate 59 carrier-borne fighter jets from the U.S. Navy’s Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture around next year in line with the realignment. The move is viewed as further strengthening the base’s functions.

The U.S. plans to replace the F/A-18 fighters and the AV-8 Harrier jets at the Marine Corps’ Air Station Iwakuni with the F-35B, a variant of the F-35 fighters capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings.

The envisioned deployment of the F-35, which is being developed by an international consortium led by U.S. aircraft giant Lockheed Martin Corp., is part of the U.S. strategic rebalance to Asia amid China’s military buildup.

“As this would be the first deployment in Japan, we would like to make inquiries about the aircraft’s safety and operation,” Fukuda told reporters after their meeting.

Muraoka separately said to reporters he wants to “respect the wishes of residents.”

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