Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Japan will begin construction in 2022 of an airfield, government sources said on Monday, on an uninhabited East China Sea island it recently bought.
The island is central to the planned relocation of a "field carrier landing practice" site needed by aircraft aboard U.S. aircraft carriers.
A three-year construction schedule is planned, and the landing site could become operational by 2025, pending an agreement between Japan and the United States. Construction of the airfield, with a control tower and communications facilities, is expected to begin in 2022. The site will be a permanent training environment to maintain carrier-based pilot skills.
U.S. aircraft carriers are based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwkuni in Japan's Yamaguchi Prefecture.
The plans were revealed days after the island, 21 miles off the coast of Japan's Kyushu island, was sold for $146 million to the government by a Japanese real estate development company. It currently has two dirt runways but is otherwise deserted, with no inhabitants. The runways will be paved so US. Navy and Marine Corps pilots can practice takeoffs and landings.
The island of about three square miles is said to be regarded as an unsinkable aircraft carrier for U.S. forces, as well as a training area for Japan's Self-Defense Forces.
The planned use of a small, volcanic island in the East China Sea comes after studies indicate that U.S. forces in Japan, concentrated at a small number of bases, could be vulnerable to Chinese missile strikes in a conflict. Spreading troops and resources to more areas could mitigate the issue, analysts say.