Source AP ©

Japan to deploy dozens of F-15 fighters on Okinawa to defend itself against China

Japan intends to deploy US-made F-15 fighter jets on the southern island of Okinawa. Japan's Defense Ministry officials said that such a move was going to take place for the first time to ehnance the nation's air defense against China. The planes are said to be deployed on Okinawa by early 2009.

About 20 F-15 jets currently deployed at Hyakuri Base, northeast of Tokyo, will be sent to Okinawa by March 31, 2009, to replace 24 F-4s "as a measure aimed at airspace violations," a ministry spokeswoman said on customary condition of anonymity.

The F-4s, which are nearing the end of their 20-year service life, will be transferred to the Hyakuri Base, where 18 other F-15 jets will remain to defend the nation's capital region, she said. The ministry has not finalized replacement plans for the F-4s, she added.

The ministry also plans to deploy AH64D fighter helicopters on Japan's southern main island of Kyushu as part of the planned fleet relocation to step up defense against China, the Nikkei business newspaper said Tuesday.

The number of emergency alerts caused by suspected Chinese incursions into Japanese airspace totaled 107 in fiscal 2005, compared to zero in 2002, though the number fell to 22 last year. Japan has disputes with China and Taiwan over several islands in the East China Sea.

Japanese officials have called China's growing military spending a regional threat and called for Beijing to show more transparency.

The U.S. military, which occupies large parts of Okinawa under the bilateral security pact, has F-15s at their bases.

Okinawa is about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo.