At Japan’s Naha airbase in Okinawa, the roar of F-15 fighter jets dwarfs the sound of commercial planes that share the same runway.
Three jets take off one after the other to start the day’s training, mostly scenarios involving combat and aircraft interception – some have gone on “real life scrambles” or emergency calls to intercept suspected Chinese aircraft.
These routine exercises have taken on a new sense of urgency, according to Lt Col Masatoshi Tanaka.
“We’re very nervous,” he says. “We’ve been facing airspace violations of Japanese territory every day. Chinese activities have expanded in number and quality. They involve UAVs [drones], bombers and reconnaissance planes. There are many active aircraft carriers in this area.”
Naha is part of the Okinawa island chain, which is on the frontline of any potential conflict between China and the self-ruled island of Taiwan. The territory, which Beijing claims and has vowed to take by force if necessary, has become one of the biggest flashpoints in the world, especially as tensions soar between the US and China.