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Japan-based F-35 stealth fighters begin 1st training drills near Okinawa, stiring public fears

(Xinhua)    21:01, February 08, 2017

Training maneuvers began this week near Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa of the U.S. Marine Corps' F-35 fighter jets, local media said here Wednesday.

The drills of the next-generation stealth aircraft were conducted this week following the first overseas deployment by the U.S. of the fighter jets to the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture last month.

Local media quoted the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force as describing the drills involving the planes as "regularly scheduled training" and added that the F-35 jets will operate on a "transient basis out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Kadena Air Base." Both U.S. bases are located in Okinawa.

No further information about the drills, such as times, locations and purposes were provided by the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, which heads up the U.S. Marines in Japan

The arrival of the jets in January is part of a broader plan to assign 16 similar fighters to bases here.

Along with the U.S. deploying its F-35s here, Japan's Ministry of Defense (MOD) also plans to purchase at least 6 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets and has stated the acquisition is aimed at "intending to help bolster Japan's Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) achieving superior air-combat capability."

The MOD here has previously stated that the stealth fighter, the Pentagon's most expensive weapons system in history, can be configured for air-to-air engagements, as well as air-to-ground and air-to-sea engagements.

It has also referred to the fact that developments have been underway for the fighter to carry next-generation weaponry, including the possibility of a solid state laser and a High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW), which is a hypersonic missile.

The fifth-generation, multirole, stealth fighter jets have been selected by Japan's MOD as its future mainstay fighter, as the jet offers superior stealth capabilities, second only to that of the U.S. F-22 Raptor.

With a radar cross-section roughly equal to the size of a metal golf ball, it largely undetectable to radars.

Local residents and officials in both Okinawa, Yamaguchi Prefecture and Iwakuni City have been up in arms about the potential fallout from hosting the jets.

Some locals now fear that that the highly-capable, yet costly jets, could make the region a possible target by an anti-U.S. entity or entities.

Officials like Yamaguchi Governor Tsugumasa Muraoka have also voiced their concern about the jet's checkered safety record and the amount of noise created by the jets.

With Japan grappling with a stagnant economy and a demographic crisis, many observers here have been flummoxed by the defense ministry's shopping list for fiscal year 2017.

The list includes a hefty 95 billion yen (about 845.69 million U.S. dollars) bill for the taxpayers here for the new jets.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is intent on expanding the operational scope of the Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and forced controversial security legislation through parliament and into law, using his ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition's majority in both caucuses.

But the public remain staunchly opposed to its revision and the government's expanding military drive and push to revise the pacifist constitution.

The constitution prohibits Japan from maintaining any war potential or for using force as a means to settle international disputes.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Jiang Jie, Bianji)

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