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China-Japan relations

US to deploy 16 F-35 stealth fighters at Japan base next year

It marks the first time for that stealth aircraft to be stationed overseas and is part of the US strategic rebalance to Asia

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 6:51pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 4:55pm

The Japanese government informed the city of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Monday that the United States plans to deploy 16 F-35 fighters at the US military base there from January to August next year.

It marks the first time for that stealth aircraft to be stationed overseas.

High-ranking officials from Japan’s defence and foreign ministries visited Iwakuni in western Japan and informed Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda as well as Yamaguchi Governor Tsugumasa Muraoka of the planned deployment. The plan is to first deploy 10 F-35 jets in January and six more in August.

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Fukuda told Shunsuke Takei, parliamentary vice foreign minister, and Hiroyuki Miyazawa, parliamentary vice defence minister, that his city was frustrated at the lack of information provided to them 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 US military realignment,” Takei said during their meeting, which was open to the media.

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The Iwakuni base is also expected to accommodate 59 carrier-borne fighter jets from the US Navy’s Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, around next year, in line with the realignment of US forces in Japan agreed by Tokyo and Washington in 2006. The move is viewed as further strengthening the base’s functions.

The United States 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 takeoff and vertical landing.

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

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“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”.