Japan dispatches fighter jets to Alaska for aerial refueling drills

Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2003

TOKYO (AP) Japan dispatched six fighter jets and a surveillance plane to Alaska on Wednesday for aerial refueling exercises with the U.S. Air Force, a Japanese defense official said.

The six F-15 fighters and one AWACS radar-tracking plane were heading for their first-ever drill on the U.S. mainland, Defense Agency spokesman Chiyohiro Akamine said.

The aircraft will practice refueling from U.S. KC-135 tanker planes as part of the ''Cope Thunder'' exercises scheduled to run from June 5 to June 20, he said.

Three C-130 cargo planes and about 270 personnel from Japan's Air Self-Defense Force will be involved in the drills at Elmendorf and Eielson Air Force bases, he said.

Japan and the United States, which share a joint security pact, often conduct military exercises together.

In recent months, such activity has been stepped up, including sea and air drills in the East China Sea and Guam, amid heightened tensions over North Korea's development of nuclear weapons.

Washington has beefed up its presence in the region, sending bombers to Guam in March, in response to Pyongyang's apparent moves to reactivate its nuclear program.

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