NAHA AIR BASE, Japan — This sun-baked airfield was built atop Okinawa’s rocky coral by Americans during the cold war, but these days its roaring jets proudly display the red sun of Japan. Read the article in The New York Times here:
The Japanese F-15 fighters are engaged in an increasingly busy, and at times tense, game of cat-and-mouse with rapidly modernizing China, just across the East China Sea. The pilots say they face intrusions into Japanese-controlled airspace by an array of increasingly sophisticated Chinese aircraft, including advanced fighters like the Russian-made Su-27.
“You cannot let down your guard when you fly up against an Su-27,” said Maj. Gen. Masashi Yamada, commander of Naha’s squadron of 24 fighters.
General Yamada will soon get additional help. In December, Tokyo announced plans to strengthen its forces in the southwestern Okinawan islands, including adding a dozen F-15s in Naha. The increase is part of a broader shift in Japanese defensive stance southward, toward China, that some analysts are calling one of Japan’s biggest changes in postwar military strategy.
This strategic shift is another step in a gradual and limited buildup of Japan’s forces, aimed at keeping up with the changing power balance in Asia while remaining within the bounds of Japan’s antiwar Constitution and the constraints of its declining economic power. Political analysts say Japan is slowly raising the capabilities of its forces to respond to a more assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea — and to take a first, halting step out of the shadow of the United States, its postwar protector, which many Japanese fear may one day no longer have the will or ability to defend Japan.