Redevelopments eyed at air, sea ports in Okinawa Pref. to accommodate SDF aircraft, vessels

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A C-2 transport aircraft lands at Yonaguni Airport in Okinawa Prefecture on Nov. 17.

The government plans to refurbish runways at airports in Okinawa Prefecture’s Sakishima Islands to accommodate Self-Defense Forces F-35 fighter jets and expand a port on Yonaguni Island to enable large SDF vessels to dock, according to government sources.

The moves are aimed at ensuring the smooth deployment of SDF units and the evacuation of residents in the event of an emergency in Taiwan, which is about 110 kilometers from Yonaguni, Japan’s westernmost island.

Development of public infrastructure that can be used for defense purposes is expected to be included in the revised National Security Strategy, which the government is expected to approve on Friday at the earliest.

Infrastructure development on islands close to Taiwan is positioned as a high priority, with the possibility of the armed unification of Taiwan by China ever-present.

Under the government’s plan, Yonaguni, New Ishigaki and Miyako airports will have their runways extended and enhanced so that F-35 fighter jets can use them.

At 2,000 meters, the runways at all three airports are currently too short for fighter jets. Work also needs to be done to improve heat resistance to handle vertical landings by F-35Bs.

As large SDF and Japan Coast Guard vessels cannot currently dock on Yonaguni Island, the government plans to deepen the existing port and construct an about 250-meter quay.

A proposal has also been mooted to utilize Ishigaki Port in Ishigaki and Hirara Port in Miyakojima as supply facilities for the SDF and the coast guard.

The government plans to improve the functions of Naha Airport, the base of the SDF’s Southwestern Air Defense Force, by adding a taxiway to the runway, among other measures.

The central government’s plans are also intended to enable the smooth evacuation of residents in the event of an emergency, but the prefectural government, which manages airports and related facilities, has expressed caution about efforts to include the facility in the nation’s emergency response framework.

The central government will aim to get the prefectural government on board by offering a detailed explanation of its proposals.