TOKYO, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Japan may deploy its fighter jets closer to the Senkaku Islands as the island dispute with China grows tenser, a defense official told the Mainichi Daily News.
A fleet of such jets may be kept on the Sakishima Islands near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture to reduce flying distance and to more promptly deal with Chinese planes intruding into Japanese airspace, the report said.
Currently, Japan's Air Self-Defense Force uses its F-15 fighter jets on its Naha base in Okinawa Prefecture, about 260 miles from the disputed islands, when Chinese planes approach, and it takes too long to arrive at their destination, the report said.
The Sakashima Islands are closer to the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea which have become a source of growing territorial dispute with China.
Since the dispute worsened in September after Japan nationalized them, China has been sending its ships and planes to the islands' waters and airspace to assert its claims, causing tensions to rise.
The Mainichi report said the Japanese Defense Ministry plans to study the feasibility of stationing fighter jets at airports on the Sakishima Islands such as the Shimojijima Airport, which is about midway from the Naha base and the Senkakus.
The report said under current arrangements, it would take an F-15 flying at its maximum speed a minimum of 20 minutes to reach the Senkakus, enough time for a Chinese plane to leave the scene.
"We can't do anything about the distance. We need to think about whether we can deploy a fleet closer" to the Senkaku Islands, a defense official told Mainichi.
The Shimojijima Airport also has a runway long enough for the fighter jets, the report said.