In an effort to strengthen its defense and counter Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea region, Tokyo has set in motion plans to build a new military base on the island of Mageshima in Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan.
Work at the site began Thursday and is expected to last for four years, an Asia Times report citing local media said. Plans include installing two runways, a control tower and an ammunition depot.
Construction of the runways and ammunition storage facilities is expected to be completed first so that the air base can be put to use as soon as possible, according to Nippon.com.
“Given the most severe and complicated security environment of the postwar era, the government will build this facility and begin its operation at an early date,” a top government spokesman said at a news conference Thursday, as reported by the Japan Times.
The project will pave the way for the relocation of field carrier landing practice (FCLP) of the U.S. carrier-borne aircraft from Iwoto Island in the Pacific, approximately 776 miles south of Tokyo.
The training site for U.S. military jets was shifted to Iwoto Island in the early 1990s from its earlier base at Atsugi near Tokyo, following complaints from locals. While the training drills took place in Iwoto, the jets are based in another U.S. military base in Iwakuni, in western Japan, approximately 869 miles away.
The base was moved to Mageshima, an uninhabited island approximately five square miles in size and located about 248 miles south of Iwakuni to suit Washington’s need for a more convenient and permanent location for the drills under the military realignment accord between Japan and the U.S.
The new base will also be used for Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) training, including exercises involving the SDF’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade and Osprey transport aircraft, according to a report in the Japan News.
With China ratcheting tensions in the region over Taiwan and conflicting claims over nearby islands, Japan, in December 2022, announced a paradigm shift in its security policy.
Apart from strengthening defense, the construction of the military base at Mageshima has two key advantages: it is essentially uninhabited reducing the impact on the local population, and the terrain is large and flat making construction relatively easier.
Japan’s Defense Ministry has proposed the payment of ¥2.2 billion ($17 million) as compensation to local fishermen who will be prohibited from operating the area during the construction period.
Reacting to Tokyo’s decision to develop the base, a joint statement issued after the Japan-U.S. 2-plus-2 on Wednesday said, “The ministers welcomed the progress and future prospects for the development of the SDF facility on Mageshima.”