Government sources said that the Defense Ministry is contemplating on placing F-15 fighter jets at a remote airport in Shimojijima Island, located next to the better known Miyakojima Island. With Shimojijima being much closer to the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu, the jets will be able respond much faster to airspace incursions by China. However, since Shimojijima Airport is not equipped for military use, the ministry would need to refit the place before flying in the jets in from Okinawa.
Just recently, on January 5, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told ministry officials to strengthen the country’s border security measures. It will be remembered that sometime in December, a Chinese government plane flew over the Senkakus. The Air Self-Defense Force flew out eight F-15s from its base in Okinawa’s prefectural capital Naha but by the time they got near the islands, the plane was no longer in sight. This is because to takes 15 to 20 minutes for the jet to get to the Senkakus after an emergency take-off being that the Naha Air Base is a good 420 km away.
An important footnote, however, in this transfer plan is that Japan entered into a memorandum of understand with the United States that the Shimojijima Island will not be used for purposes other than civil aviation. The memorandum was signed in 1971, a year before Okinawa was reverted back to Japan after being under the control of the U.S. The central government, represented by then-Okinawa Governor Junji Nishime, also exchanged a confirmation note to said effect. Today, both governments consider the airport a base for disaster relief in cases of emergencies in the Asia-Pacific region.
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