Mage Island in Nishinoomote, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan
Mage Island in Nishinoomote, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan

Japan Self-defense Forces Begins Construction of New Base for Carrier Landing Practice

Japan started construction work Thursday for a Self-Defense Forces base on an uninhabited island in a southwestern prefecture, the Japan Ministry of Defense said, under a plan to relocate military drills using U.S. carrier-borne fighter jets. In the work expected to last four years on Mage Island in Kagoshima, the ministry will first build runways and ammunition storage facilities. Japan Today reported that the ministry has proposed paying 2.2 billion yen in compensation to local fishermen who will not be able to operate during the four-year construction period and the following assessment year, according to a fishery cooperative source. The project will pave the way for the relocation of the practice site for U.S. fighter jets from Iwoto Island in the Pacific, about 1,250 kilometers south of Tokyo, following the construction work on the 8 square km island.

In 2009, Mageshima came under consideration as a possible relocation site for the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa, or at least as a site for the United States Navy to relocate its aircraft carrier aircraft touch-and-go training. In 2011, Japan agreed to provide the US Military with a new training site instead of Iwo To (formerly called Iwo Jima) which is much further south 1,360 km (850 mi) of Japan’s main islands. In November 2019, the Government of Japan made an agreement with the Tokyo-based development company Taston Airport to purchase Mageshima for 16 billion yen ($146 million). It will become a base of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and a training site to conduct landing practices for U.S. aircraft carrier-based aircraft. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said “purchase of Mageshima Island is extremely important and serves for strengthening deterrence by the Japan-US alliance as well as Japan’s defense capability”.

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The U.S. military previously carried out takeoff and landing drills at its Atsugi base near Tokyo, but the training site was moved to Iwoto Island temporarily in the early 1990s due largely to noise complaints from local residents. The fighters were all transferred from Atsugi to another U.S. military base in the western Japan city of Iwakuni by 2018, resulting in longer flights to the training site. Iwoto Island is around 1,400 km southeast of Iwakuni. After Washington asked Tokyo to prepare a more convenient and permanent location for the drills, Mage Island, located about 400 km south of Iwakuni, became a candidate site under the U.S. military realignment accord between Japan and the United States in 2011. The relocation plan stated in the 2011 U.S. military realignment accord between Tokyo and Washington moved forward after Kagoshima Gov Koichi Shiota gave the nod to the project last November.

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