The carrier-based aircraft stationed at the Iwakuni Air Station (Yamaguchi Prefecture) are to begin field carrier landing practice (FCLP) on Ioto Island (Tokyo) on or after May 14. This is a pre-dispatch exercise for nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which will soon leave its home port in Yokosuka (Kanagawa) for the Indo-Pacific Ocean to participate in operations there. The deployment aims to prevent a “power vacuum” from forming in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
Usually, the FCLP takes only a few days to complete. This time, however, the period allocated for the training is a surprisingly long 28 days. According to the Defense Ministry’s Chugoku-Shikoku Defense Bureau, the aircraft crew will be separated into two groups with different timelines: (1) the first group will train for approximately one week starting on May 14 and (2) the second group will train for approximately three days starting on June 8. In addition, the carrier qualification training, which usually takes place on the ship, will be carried out on Ioto Island instead. This training is scheduled for (1) three days for the first group, starting on or around May 23 and (2) three days for the second group, starting on or around June 12. To prevent spread of the coronavirus, the aircraft crew will not return to Iwakuni before shipping out.
On May 13, the day before the training started, a large number of carrier-based aircraft left the Iwakuni base, including FA18 Super Hornets. The Ronald Reagan completed its test voyage on May 15 and returned temporarily to the Yokosuka base.
Originally, the ship had been slated to leave port in mid-April, but there was an outbreak of the new coronavirus among its crew members in late March. Commander Brian Fort of the U.S. Naval Forces in Japan has announced “close to 30” cases of the virus have been confirmed at the Yokosuka base. Furthermore, coronavirus cases have been reported among crew members that had been separately quarantined at bases in Yokota (Tokyo) and Atsugi (Kanagawa). The U.S. forces have been unable to control the spread of the virus, increasing the risk to Japanese workers on the bases and the residents of the surrounding areas. (Abridged)