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Japan eyes deploying F-35B stealth jets to ASDF base in southwest

This file photo taken in March 2018 shows an F-35B stealth fighter jet. (Kyodo)

TOKYO(Kyodo) -- Japan is considering deploying F-35B advanced stealth fighter jets to an Air Self-Defense Force base in Miyazaki Prefecture, government sources said Sunday, in a bid to boost defense capabilities on the country's remote southwestern islands in light of China's muscle-flexing at sea.

    The envisioned deployment of the aircraft to Nyutabaru Air Base is aimed at keeping in check China's maritime assertiveness around the area including the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China claims the uninhabited islands which it calls Diaoyu.

    The government aims to make the F-35Bs, which are capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, operational in 2024 and create a fighter unit for this purpose, the sources said.

    Japan's fiscal 2019-2023 midterm defense buildup program has already included a plan to buy 18 F-35B jets and introduce them by fiscal 2023. Eventually, the government plans to acquire 42 F-35Bs.

    China has repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus. With Beijing's increasing maritime activities in mind, Japan is stepping up its capabilities to protect its Nansei Islands covering Okinawa and the Senkakus.

    According to the sources, the F-35Bs are expected, after being deployed to the Nyutabaru base, to conduct joint exercises with other F-35Bs already deployed at the U.S. Marine Corps' Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

    It is also envisaged that eventually upgraded Izumo-class flat-top helicopter carriers will transport and launch fighter jets such as F-35Bs, the U.S. Marines variant of the F-35 stealth plane made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

    But it remains uncertain whether the local community will consent to the envisioned deployment.

    Japan is considering positioning the F-35Bs and F-35As, used by the U.S. Air Force, as its mainstay fighter jets.

    Japan plans to deploy a total of 105 F35As. The F-35A is equipped with high-performance radar that can detect ballistic missiles and is capable of evading radar detection.

    F-35A stealth fighters have already been deployed at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan, to respond to airspace incursions and engage in surveillance activity on North Korea.

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