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11:01 AM, November 30, 2018
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Japan Buying Southern Island for US Carrier Aircraft Landing Practice
Mageshima Island in Nishinoomote, Kagoshima Prefecture (Image: Google Maps)

The Japanese government is close to buying an uninhabited island in the south-western Kagoshima Prefecture to allow United States forces to practice aircraft carrier landings.

The government negotiators and Taston Airport Company, which owns the island, have reached a breakthrough on the issue of price, now set between 11 and 14 billion yen (US $97 million to $123 million), Mainchi reported Thursday.

The deal would pave the way for US forces to use the island for field carrier landing practice (FCLP), in which military aircraft use an airstrip as a mock aircraft carrier deck for repeated takeoff and landing training.

Because of the excessive noise, FCLP has mainly been conducted on Iwo Jima, an island some 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, since 1991. However, when the Iwo Jima runway is closed due to inclement weather, US forces shift the exercises to Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo, or to Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan, and the training has drawn heavy criticism for noise pollution, the news daily reported.

The prefectural government of Yamaguchi in western Japan, where US carrier aircraft are stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, has also sought central government intervention to settle the noise issue. With a breakthrough on Mageshima in sight, the Japanese government is also eyeing moving US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey training to the island from the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa.

Under a June 2011 agreement in a 2-plus-2 meeting of foreign and defense ministers from Japan and the United States, the countries named Mageshima as a candidate site to relocate the FCLP training. Full-fledged negotiations began in 2016, but the government and the land owner were initially far apart on price, with Taston seeking some 20 billion yen (US $176 million) and the government offering about 5 billion yen (US $44 million).

The stalemate began to thaw after October this year when the new head of Taston began to suggest flexibility on the price was possible, according to people familiar with the matter.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya indicated willingness to accelerate the talks in an Oct. 26 press conference, saying that it is "extremely important to secure an FCLP facility in terms of national security."

Having FCLP conducted on Mageshima, which is about 400 kilometers southwest of the Iwakuni air station, has advantages for US forces over flying all the way to Iwo Jima, roughly 1,400 kilometers southeast of Iwakuni.

Once the Mageshima negotiation is settled, the government intends to explain its plans for moving the training and seek the understanding of local stakeholders.

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