Photo/IllutrationMilitary aircraft at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on March 31 (Takaaki Fujino)

  • Photo/Illustraion

IWAKUNI, Yamaguchi Prefecture--The U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni is now one of the largest air bases in the Far East, much to the chagrin of residents here who have long complained about military noise.

The Defense Ministry’s Chugoku-Shikoku Defense Bureau notified the Iwakuni city government March 31 about the relocation of around 60 aircraft from the U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture.

The U.S. military informed the ministry that the relocation of the aircraft from a U.S. Navy carrier air wing based at Atsugi was completed on March 30.

That completion caps a 12-year relocation process based on a 2006 agreement between Tokyo and Washington over the U.S. military’s realignment plan in Japan.

Four F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets were seen arriving at the Iwakuni base on March 30, giving the air station 130 U.S. military aircraft.

Five of the seven squadrons of the carrier air wing were relocated between August and December last year. The remaining 24 or so aircraft began moving to Iwakuni on March 26.

Relocated personnel and operations will arrive at the Iwakuni air station in the coming months.

The Iwakuni facility, facing the Seto Inland Sea, is located near a residential area.

In an effort to alleviate noise pollution and dangers to local residents, a runway was built 1 kilometer into the sea on reclaimed land in 2010 to replace an existing one at the base.

However, that measure did little to quell the noise complaints.

In fact, the number of complaints about noise increased to 1,660 between last August and February this year, compared with 1,002 over the same period a year earlier.

In a statement released after the relocation was completed, Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda pledged to continue addressing the noise issue.

“I am ready to call on the central government and U.S. military to respond if a problem arises while trying to grasp the real situation about the noise and base operations by working with the prefectural government and related municipalities,” he said.

Although the Atsugi facility is no longer home to the carrier wing, it will still be used by aircraft that have moved to Iwakuni.

U.S. Naval Forces Japan announced last summer that Atsugi will remain a vital base for the U.S. military and will be used occasionally for training, refueling or maintenance.

(This article was written by Takakai Fujino and Toshihiko Ninomiya.)