The Japanese government on Monday confirmed an agreement made to purchase an uninhabited island in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima to be used by U.S. military aircraft to practice carrier takeoffs and landings.
Japan's top government spokesperson told a press briefing on the matter that the government plans to build a permanent facility for U.S. carrier-borne fighters to practice takeoffs and landings on Mage Island.
"It's important to secure the site for field carrier landing practice from the viewpoint of security so we will continue to try to build a permanent facility at an early date," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said of the agreement, which was reached Friday.
Under the current plan, the government will acquire the 8-square-kilometer island for 16 billion yen (146 million U.S. dollars) with an aim to transfer the training site to Mage Island from the current training site located on Iwoto Island.
Landing and takeoff drills by the U.S. military were transferred to the Pacific island of Iwato owing to noise complaints from local residents when U.S. forces used to use its Atsugi base near Tokyo for the drills.
The use of Iwato was only supposed to be temporary, however, following the transfer from Atsugi in the 1990s.
Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda said that it was necessary for the facility to be built to allay concerns voiced by residents in Iwakuni, located around 400 km from Mage Island.
"Building a permanent training facility is necessary to reduce worries among local people in Iwakuni. We'd like to ask the government to have the facility completed early," Fukuda was quoted on Monday as saying in a statement.
Once the acquisition with the Tokyo-based development company who owns the majority of the Mage Island had been completed, the government had previously said it was also mulling the use of the island for Japan's Self-Defense Forces' (SDF) operations.
Its plan to build a new SDF base on the island, however, has been met with staunch criticism from residents of neighboring Tanegashima Island, who voiced their concern about the potential for military-linked accidents and noise pollution.
Drills by the accident-prone tilt-rotor Ospreys based at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, may be transferred to Mage, the government also previously suggested, along with the construction of a new SDF facility.
This has added to the concerns of Tanegashima residents who are cognizant of the checkered safety history of the plane, which can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-winged aircraft.
Among other mishaps, in August 2017, a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey made an emergency landing in Japan's Oita Prefecture, on the eastern coast of Kyushu, with a similar plane making a crash-landing of off Nago in Okinawa in December 2016.
Such incidents and mishaps have done little to improve local political and public faith in the accident-prone aircraft.