US deploys 26 planes to Japanese air base despite local protests

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jet © Michael Fiala
Pentagon has sent twelve brand new F-16 fighter jets and fourteen F-22 stealth bombers to a base in Okinawa – an island already involved in a decade-long struggle against US military expansion there.

The US Air Force says the jets that arrived to Kadena Air Base on Monday and Tuesday will stay there until the end of February.

The deployment to Japan comes amid increasing tensions with neighboring North Korea after the latter tested a nuclear bomb and is planning a long range missile test next week. Part of the reason is to carry out deployment drill to tests for combat readiness to defend US ally Japan, but local residents are fiercely opposing the noisy jets, Japan’s NHK reports, amid a wider Okinawa push against US bases.

Although very small, the island and prefecture hosts more than half of US troops in Japan.

Three local towns in the area demand noise level and flight route tests to be carried out in February. Kadena Mayor Hiroshi Toyama strongly criticizes the increasing number of jets training at the Okinawa base. He demanded the jets be withdrawn earlier, and believes the problem will only grow.

Late in December, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga had already filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government to stop the relocation of US Marine Corps base Futenma to another part of the region.

Onaga’s lawsuit adds to an ongoing legal war with Tokyo to revoke the government’s decision to construct a new military base for US troops in northern Okinawa. The current USMC Air Station Futenma is planned to relocate there under US-Japanese arrangements citing “less military impact” on the island’s population.  

The campaign to eject American bases entirely from the island has been on for a decade and touches on more things than just noisy planes, including also pollution, public disorder, crime and sexual abuse.