Five E-2D early warning aircraft arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on Wednesday, the first batch of a phased transfer of the U.S. Navy's carrier air wing from the Atsugi base under a realignment plan for U.S. forces in Japan.
The E-2D Hawkeyes, equipped with advanced radar and satellite communications systems, are among 61 aircraft that will be moved from Atsugi by May next year, making Iwakuni one of the largest U.S. air bases in East Asia.
The relocation plan is part of an accord reached by Tokyo and Washington in 2006 on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan that also involves F/A-18 fighter jets and other planes deployed on the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which is based at the Yokosuka naval base in Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo.
In June, Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda and Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka accepted the transfer plan aimed at helping to resolve the noise problems associated with the Atsugi base, located in a densely populated area in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Aircraft deployed on the carrier are blamed for much of the noise, which has prompted nearby residents to file a series of lawsuits and call for an early realignment.
The Iwakuni base, located in Yamaguchi Prefecture and about 670 kilometers west of Atsugi, will accommodate around 120 aircraft after the transfer is complete, outnumbering the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa where about 100 are deployed.
Roughly 3,800 personnel are expected to move from Atsugi to Iwakuni in total.
On Wednesday, a civic group held a protest near the Iwakuni base timed for the arrival of the early warning planes.
"Once the relocation is completed, residents here will inevitably live their daily lives with noise problems that will double as well as a greater fear of accidents," said Jungen Tamura, a 71-year-old Iwakuni city assembly member.