Japan to deploy F-35B stealth fighters from 2024 to step up defence of East China Sea islands

Japan to deploy F-35B stealth fighters from 2024 to step up defence of East China Sea islands. Local media reports say the airfield is some 1,030km northeast of the disputed Diaoyu Islands that are claimed by China but controlled by Japan, learned citing scmp.

Japan to deploy F-35B

Japan will deploy the F-35B stealth fighter aircraft for the first time from 2024, a decision strongly influenced by the perceived threat posed by China’s military to Japanese territory in the East China Sea

Sources told the Yomiuri newspaper that the first F-35B jets would be based at the Air Self-Defence Force’s Nyutabaru Air Base in southern Miyazaki Prefecture, to defend the country’s remote islands. The airfield is about 1,030km northeast of the disputed Diaoyu Islands that are claimed by China but controlled by Japan, which refers to them as the Senkaku Islands.

The Chinese coastguard has in recent years increased its activity near the Diaoyus, raising alarm in Tokyo, which brought the islands under state control in 2012.

Underlining Tokyo’s concerns, the Defence Ministry on Sunday confirmed that the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its accompanying support warships had traversed waters between the main island of southern Okinawa Prefecture and Miyako Island, also part of the prefecture. It was the first time the aircraft carrier had been sighted in the area in a year, although the warships at no time entered into Japanese territorial waters.

The F-35B is the vertical-take off and landing (VTOL) variant of the US-built fighter and the first units will operate with the Maritime Self-Defence Force’s JS Kaga, which is presently designated as a helicopter carrier but will be upgraded into an aircraft carrier.

Tokyo’s pilots are now training on the F-35B – each of which costs 13 billion yen (US$117 million) – but are reportedly encountering challenges. They have never before flown VTOL-capable aircraft or trained to land vertically on aircraft carriers at sea. The first F-35B squadron will comprise 18 fighters, with Japan scheduled to purchase a total of 42 jets.

Garren Mulloy, a professor of international relations at Japan’s Daito Bunka University who specialises in defence issues, said the F35-B fighters would operate with Izumo-class vessels and later classes developed by Japan to provide better defensive and force-projection capabilities to the southwest.

“They will be close to the amphibious brigade that is stationed not far from the naval base at Sasebo, and the ministry wants to relocate the Osprey transport aircraft to Saga Prefecture in the future as well,” he said. “It makes complete sense to have your naval platforms, assault units, transport aircraft and fighter jets all in the same area.”

While the islands that make up Okinawa might be closer to the disputed Diaoyus, Mulloy said Japan’s military was limited in the prefecture for purely logistical reasons. Naha Airport is the primary hub for all three arms of the Japanese military, the Japan Coast Guard, and it is also the islands’ gateway for tourists.

The United States and Japanese governments have been discussing conducting large-scale joint drills to increase their capability to protect the Diaoyus, with President Joe Biden
’s administration confirming on January 28 that the disputed island chain was subject to Article 5 of the Japan-US security treaty.

Article 5 states that the US will defend territories under Japan’s administration from armed attack.

But Washington has also maintained a neutral position regarding the issue of sovereignty, saying it is an issue between the involved parties.

Declassified documents obtained from the US National Archives showed Washington instructed its navy in June 1978 to suspend use of a firing range that Tokyo had provided as a training ground in the Diaoyus over fears it could become embroiled in a Sino-Japanese territorial dispute, Kyodo News reported on Monday.

The documents also showed that the US government rejected a request by its military the following year to resume use of the firing and bombing range near Taisho Island, known as the Sekibi-Sho Range, in the Diaoyus.

Administrative rights over the Diaoyus were returned by the US to Japan in 1972 as part of the Okinawa Reversion Agreement.

At that time, Japan ensured the US military’s continued access to the Sekibi-Sho Range and another firing and bombing range in the Diaoyus by providing their use under the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries.

According to the Tokyo, the American military has since not notified Tokyo of any use of the firing range, suggesting it is possible that the US government’s instructions as of June 1978 remain in effect to this day.

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