Navy to restart night landings in Japan on Friday
Navy officials say that, contrary to a recent Japanese news report, the upcoming round of night-landing practices for Carrier Air Wing FIVE is in no way intended to send a warning to North Korea.
Japan’s Daily Mainichi reported last week that the U.S. military decided to hold the sessions a month early “in preparation for any military actions vis-a-vis North Korea.”
But spokesmen for both Commander Naval Forces Japan and Naval Air Facility Atsugi said the Navy aircraft belonging to the USS Kitty Hawk’s Carrier Air Wing FIVE will conduct routine training Friday through Jan. 19 on Iwo Jima, and Jan. 20-22 at Atsugi.
“That’s not why we’re doing it,” said Chief Petty Officer Mike Raney of CNFJ. “It’s to maintain a very high state of readiness for our air wing folks and the Kitty Hawk.”
While the United States has vowed to use diplomacy in the nuclear tensions with North Korea, the communist nation suspects the United States will use military force, according to a story Thursday by The Associated Press. North Korea’s state media said the country would not bend to U.S. pressure.
Raney and Brian Naranjo, an NAF Atsugi spokesman, said they were given no information that night-landing practice was originally slated for late February.
“These pilots have not taken off from the aircraft carrier since the middle of December, after they came back from a scheduled deployment with the Kitty Hawk,” Naranjo said.
Carrier Air Wing FIVE naval aviators typically practice night landings before deploying with the Kitty Hawk. They must get recertified for the difficult task of landing on a ship at sea within 10 days of a carrier landing.
“Any time the air wing is going to be deploying with the ship, they need to practice and requalify for their landings,” Raney said.
Naranjo would not say for what mission, if any, the Kitty Hawk and the air wing are preparing.
“It’s Navy policy that we don’t discuss ship movement or operational taskings,” he said.
Elsewhere, two aircraft carrier battle groups have been put on notice to prepare for a possible war effort in the Persian Gulf region. The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier will stay on deployment indefinitely in the Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf instead of returning to its homeport in Everett, Wash., next month as planned, Cmdr. Karen Sellers, a Navy public affairs officer, told The Associated Press.
Defense officials said that the Abraham Lincoln and USS George Washington are two carrier battle group candidates that the Navy may initially provide for the war effort. The George Washington is based in Norfolk, Va.
In Japan, Carrier Air Wing FIVE aviators will attempt to conduct the maximum permissible number of landings at Iwo Jima, 660 miles south of the mainland.
The island, however, is known for its fast-changing weather. In addition to Atsugi, alternate sites designated for the Jan. 15-19 night landings are Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in southern Japan, Yokota Air Base west of Tokyo and Misawa Air Base in northern Honshu.
The pilots will practice from midnight to 2 a.m. at Iwo Jima, and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Atsugi, and alternate sites if necessary.
The landings on mainland Japan airfields is a contentious issue with local community members, who complain about the noise.
Naranjo said all the mayors of the municipalities are notified of night landing practice as soon as the Navy announces the schedule. No plans have been made at Atsugi to address any organized protests, he said.
“The landing practice in and of itself is inherently dangerous,” he said. “We just hope that the protesters don’t endanger themselves or anyone else by physically interfering with flight operations.”
Carrier Air Wing FIVE comprises 150 personnel and 80 aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornet and F-14 Tomcat fighters, as well as propeller-driven Navy aircraft.
The last series of night landing runs was held in mid-October.
— Wayne Specht contributed to this story.