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After a recent brush with North Korean MiGs, did the U.S. Air Force ask Japan to ride shotgun on its reconnaissance flights?

Japan’s Kyodo news service says yes — but U.S. Forces Japan isn’t saying.

A U.S. Forces Japan spokesman declined to confirm the Kyodo news service report that Lt. Gen. Thomas Waskow asked the Japanese government for aerial support of U.S. reconnaissance missions over the Sea of Japan.

Waskow is commander of USFJ and the 5th Air Force at Yokota Air Base.

The news service said he asked for help from Japan’s E-767 airborne warning and control aircraft.

The report indicated the request was tendered during a meeting in Tokyo with Adm. Toru Ishikawa, chairman of the Self-Defense Forces’ Joint Staff Council, composed of leaders of the nation’s air, ground and maritime defense forces.

Col. Victor Warzinski, a USFJ spokesman, said Thursday he was aware of the Kyodo news report. He declined, however, to discuss specifics.

“We are working together on a series of measures to more closely monitor continuing tensions with North Korea,” Warzinski said in a prepared statement. “We welcome Japan’s support of this effort.”

Meanwhile, a Japanese Defense Agency press spokesman said: “We are unaware of what has been reported.”

The meeting between Waskow and the chairman, as cited in the Kyodo report, did not happen, he added.

The news service, citing unnamed Japanese sources, said Japan plans to accept the U.S. request.

On March 2, four North Korean MiG fighters intercepted a U.S. Air Force RC-135S reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace over the Sea of Japan, about 150 miles off North Korea’s eastern coast. The reconnaissance aircraft safely returned to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, after the incident.

In response, the U.S. military began its own AWACS flights out of Kadena, Kyodo reported.

The report said the United States decided to ask for cooperation from the SDF because of fears North Korea may escalate provocative actions while the United States is focused on Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces operates four E-767 AWACS planes, a civilian version of the Boeing 767 but with a distinctive radome anchored to the top of the fuselage. Based at Hamamatsu Air Base in western Japan, they normally carry a crew of 12 to 24 people.

Flights of AWACS aircraft by the SDF to help U.S. reconnaissance planes would constitute a joint operation, according to the Kyodo report. But it said the Japanese government thinks exchanges of general information between the SDF and U.S. military do not violate Japan’s ban on offensive military action.

A Defense Agency spokesman said at least one Japanese airborne warning and control system aircraft has flown over the Sea of Japan since the U.S. spy plane’s interception, The Japan Times reported.

The E-767 is 6 feet longer than its American counterpart andhas 50 percent more floor area, almost twice the cabin volume and can fly higher, faster and remain on station longer without refueling.

Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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