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Japan to pay $146 million for small island pegged to serve as Navy pilots’ training ground

An F/A-18 Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 5 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, takes part in field carrier landing practice at Iwo Jima, Japan, May 17, 2019.

JAMES BOLINGER/STARS AND STRIPES

By AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STIPES Published: December 3, 2019

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The owner of a small island off the coast of Kyushu has agreed to sell the property to Japan, which plans to turn it into a site for U.S naval aviators to practice carrier landings, the chief cabinet minister’s office announced Monday.

The Taston Airport development company agreed Friday to sell Mageshima, less than 30 miles from Kyushu, southernmost of the five main islands of Japan, to the government for about $146 million, according a press briefing by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga posted on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s website Monday.

The property owner, at the time in bankruptcy proceedings, had ended purchase negotiations in May.

“It is very important to build the permanent facility to facilitate the Field Carrier Landing Practice or FCLP, per the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty,” Suga said.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense confirmed the purchase but declined to comment on whether the Japan Self-Defense Forces will also use the island. Uninhabited Mageshima, about 10 miles in circumference, is part of Kagoshima prefecture.

The purchase could conclude the hunt for an alternative site for field carrier landing practice by Navy pilots attached to Carrier Air Wing 5 and the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Since 1992, Navy pilots have practiced carrier landings at Iwo Jima — known in Japan as Iwo To — site of a bloody World War II battle 750 miles south of Tokyo.

From 1982-1992, Navy carrier pilots, who must meet carrier landing standards, practiced at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, 27 miles southwest of downtown Tokyo, according to the North Kanto Defense Bureau, an arm of the defense ministry.

Pilots train for brief periods before joining the carrier on patrol. But practice often occurs at night, raising noise complaints from surrounding neighborhoods, which prompted the move to Iwo Jima.

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, where the carrier wing is based, and NAF Atsugi are alternate sites in case of bad weather at Iwo Jima. Misawa Air Base, on the north end of Honshu, is another alternate site.

Field carrier landing practice has been held on Japan’s main island only twice in the past decade, according to the Navy. The last practice at MCAS Iwakuni took place in 2000.

In August, Yamaguchi prefecture, where the city of Iwakuni is located, asked the central government to do something about the training. The city had filed complaints from its residents about nighttime aircraft noise.

Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda, in an email Tuesday to Stars and Stripes, said the island purchase is a “huge step forward” in addressing those complaints. The carrier air wing relocated its permanent base in 2018 from NAF Atsugi to MCAS Iwakuni.

“We strongly believe that it is a must to build a permanent training facility to reduce the burden of the residents,” Fukuda wrote in his email. “We will continuously request for a faster turnaround of the new facility.”

Field carrier landing practice causes “a tremendous amount of noise and we have been asking the central government not to appoint MCAS Iwakuni as an alternative base for the FCLP training,” Fukuda said.

A U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesperson said no one was available Tuesday to comment on the purchase agreement.

Stars and Stripes reporter Carlos Vazquez contributed to this report.

ichihashi.aya@stripes.com
Twitter: @AyaIchihashi

 

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