MISAWA (Japan) • British fighter planes will take on Japanese aircraft for the first time since World War II in aerial combat drills following the arrival of four Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoons in Japan on Saturday .
The joint practice at Japan's northern Misawa Air Base began yesterday and is the first time Japan's air force is training at home with a foreign force other than that of the United States.
The jets, along with a C-17 support plane, touched down early Saturday evening under overcast skies, their high-pitched screams prompting some onlookers to cover their ears.
The Typhoons will face off against and fly with Japanese F-15s and domestically-built Mitsubishi F-2s in an exercise dubbed Guardian North 16. "We will learn from each other, and ultimately we will make friendships that will tie us together more closely in the future," RAF Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Elliot said in introductory remarks to 100 Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) personnel.
Both countries want to hone scramble techniques to counter foreign military aircraft approaching their airspace. Both shadow Russian planes, and the JASDF scrambles when Chinese jets approach Japan's south-western border.
As China's control of the neighbouring South China Sea tightens, Japan worries that Beijing's attention is turning towards the East China Sea, where Japan controls a chain of islands stretching 1,400km towards Taiwan.
In the six months to the end of September, Japanese fighters took off to chase Chinese planes 407 times compared with 231 times a year earlier, according to the JASDF. Encounters with Russian planes, which fly in from the north, rose 67 per cent to 180 incidents.
The Typhoon visit is also an opportunity for Japan to see Europe's most advanced jet as it looks at proposals for developing a new fighter to replace its F-2s at a cost of as much as US$40 billion (S$56 billion).
In 2011, Japan considered a bid by BAE Systems to buy the Typhoon in a competition ultimately won by Lockheed Martin with its F-35 stealth fighter.
Japan has yet to decide what kind of aircraft its new fighter will be, but the choice is between a cheaper non-stealth superiority fighter based on an existing design, such as the Typhoon, or a more expensive programme to build a stealth fighter like the US F-22 Raptor.