TOKYO -- Japan is giving strong consideration to positioning new F-35B stealth fighter jets on the southern island of Kyushu, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi indicated Tuesday, a move that would beef up deterrence against China's increasingly frequent maritime forays in the East China Sea.
The Air Self-Defense Force's Nyutabaru Air Base in Miyazaki Prefecture in southern Kyushu "is certainly a leading candidate," Kishi told reporters. Tokyo aims to bring the planes into service in 2024.
Deploying the advanced fighters on Kyushu would put them near the Senkaku Islands to Japan's southwest, which are administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. Recent months have seen a sharp rise in official Chinese vessels sailing near the islands, and recent legislation positioning China's coast guard as a quasi-military force has set off alarm bells in Tokyo.
The ministry sees the F-35B as a key element of its defense strategy for remote islands due to its short-takeoff and vertical-landing capabilities. Japan's medium-term defense program calls for adding 18 of the planes to its forces by fiscal 2023.
"We're focusing on existing air bases that already have fighter jet squadrons deployed," Kishi said. He did not provide a specific time frame for the positioning.
Tokyo aims to settle on a deployment location as early as this fiscal year following discussion with local communities. It will then start building the necessary facilities and creating a unit for the fighters.
The defense ministry plans to conduct exercises involving the new jets and the Kaga helicopter carrier, which is being converted into an aircraft carrier.