The U.S. Navy is finally set to gain an additional airstrip to practice their carrier-landing operations as the Japanese government looks set for a new military base at Mage Islands. The base is expected to serve as an additional deterrent to the growing Chinese threat in Asia-Pacific.
The Island, which has long been awaited to become a prospective base for new operations, was cleared to be purchased from Taston Airport company for 16 billion yen by the Japanese Government in a deal that was announced in December 2019.
This was done with an aim to transfer the U.S. training facilities from the infamous island of Iwoto, also popularly known as Iwo Jima.
Likely to house the new F-35B Lightning-II Joint Strike Fighters and controversial V-22 Ospreys purchased from the U.S., the Mage Islands is all set to become a new base for the Japanese Self Defense forces.
The base would be manned by 150 to 200 service members and will host the U.S. Navy Field Carrier Landing Practices (FLCPs) once or twice a year. According to Japanese news reports, the base will have two runways, a port, and a hangar.
Why is Japan purchasing an Island to train the U.S. Navy pilots?
The U.S. Navy’s presence in and around Japan has been there since its surrender in World War 2, after which the United States assumed the administrative authority over the defeated island nation.
Japan was demilitarized, stripped off of its armed forces. After the Korean War’s commencement in 1950, a paramilitary unit named the “National Police Reserve” was formed by the Government of Japan- which later developed into the current Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
The US-Japa Security Alliance was signed in 1951. The agreement included five articles, which dictated Japan to grant the US the territorial means to establish a military presence in the Far East. Moreover, the accord banned Japan from providing foreign powers any bases or any military-related rights without the consent of Washington.
As of 2018, Japan was compensating for 75% of the U.S. basing costs which amounted to USD 4.4 billion. However, the presence of U.S. Military personnel, particularly the Marines, has been highly debated in recent times.
Nevertheless, the presence of the United States military also involves having regular practices and sorties by the aircraft of the U.S. Navy at Airbases around major population centers, which was highly protested by locals owing to the noise created by the fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, mainly at Atsugi Base near Tokyo.
Due to this concern, the landing and takeoff drills by the Americans were transferred temporarily to Iwoto or Iwo Jima, an Island which saw one of the bloodiest battles in World War 2. These drills were held about 1,400 kilometers away from their main base in MCAS Iwakuni, and the selection of Mage Islands now cuts the distance down to 400 km.
The base is also expected to serve as a maintenance and refueling hub for the Navies of Japan and America – defending the Nansei Island chain against Chinese aggression.