Japan

Gov’t set to buy island by March for U.S. military drills

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Japan is set to purchase by March an uninhabited island in a southwestern prefecture as a candidate site for U.S. military aircraft to practice carrier landings, a government source said Wednesday.

The plan to use Mage Island in Kagoshima Prefecture as a military training site first emerged in 2007. Negotiations with the landowner are now at the final stage, with the government expecting the acquisition price to be around 16 billion yen ($146 million), the source said.

The government has been looking to transfer the U.S. military's carrier landing practice site from the current location on Iwoto Island, some 1,200 kilometers south of Tokyo, to Mage, an 8-square-kilometer island located about 12 km west of Kagoshima's Tanegashima Island.

The planned drill transfer is linked to the relocation of U.S. carrier-borne fighter jets from the U.S. Navy's Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in western Japan's Yamaguchi Prefecture. The relocation was completed last year.

Mage, most of whose land is owned by a Tokyo-based development company, became a candidate site for field carrier landing practice under a U.S. military realignment accord between Japan and the United States in June 2011.

Negotiations have been prolonged as the company initially demanded 40 billion yen from the government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference on Wednesday that Mage is a potential site for a new Self-Defense Forces base and aircraft landing drills to "bolster defense in Japan's southwestern areas."

"We will work to build a permanent facility (on the island) as soon as possible," Suga said.

By building the new SDF facility, Japan is also considering using the island for exercises of Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft currently deployed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

The Defense Ministry has allocated about 600 million yen in the fiscal 2019 budget to environmental research related to the drill relocation plan.

The residents of Nishinoomote city on Tanegashima Island have expressed concern about noise pollution and accidents that could be caused by the aircraft exercises.

"Even if the acquisition is completed, we will keep discussing how to utilize Mage Island and make proposals to the government," said Nishinoomote Mayor Shunsuke Yaita, who is opposed to military use of the island.

© KYODO