Tokyo Shimbun gave top coverage to a meeting yesterday between two senior MOD officials and Iwakuni Mayor Fukuda, during which the municipal leader was informed of the U.S. military’s plan to deploy a fleet of 16 F-35s at MCAS Iwakuni starting in January 2017. Japan will become the only country other than the U.S. to host the state-of-the-art stealth fighters, which will replace the present squadrons of FA-18s and AV-8s.
The MOD officials stressed that the F-35 deployment is not part of U.S. force realignment since it is meant to update the existing fleets. As Iwakuni is also expected to accommodate almost 60 carrier-borne aircraft from NAF Atsugi, local residents are concerned that they will have to bear a greater security burden. The daily said the regional tension may mount because China and North Korea will react strongly to the F-35 deployment.
In a related development, the paper also wrote that construction work began yesterday on the U.S. military’s Iejima Auxiliary Airfield in Okinawa to expand landing zones for carrier-borne airplanes, saying that local residents are afraid that the base will be used by the Iwakuni-based F-35s.