U.S. sends new submarine-hunting jets to Japan amid East Asia tension

TOKYO Mon Dec 2, 2013 1:40am EST

TOKYO Dec 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy's first advanced P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft has arrived in Japan, the start of a deployment that will upgrade America's ability to hunt submarines and other vessels in seas close to China as tension in the region mounts.

The deployment, planned before China last month established an air defense zone covering islands controlled by Japan and claimed by Beijing, includes six aircraft to be delivered to Kadena air base on Okinawa this month.

The first arrived on Sunday, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy told Reuters. The mission in the waters west of Japan's main islands will be the new aircraft's first anywhere.

The jet, built by Boeing Co based on its 737 passenger plane, has been built to replace the aging propeller-powered Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion patrol aircraft, which has been in service for 50 years.

Packed with the latest radar equipment and armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, the P-8 is able to fly further and stay out on mission longer than the P-3.

The arrival of the P-8 came a day before U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due to arrive in Tokyo, a visit that is being overshadowed by the territorial spat in the East China Sea between Japan and China.

While taking no position on the sovereignty of the islands known to the Japanese as the Senkakus and to the Chinese as the Daioyu, it does recognize Japanese control and therefore part of territory it would defend under a security pact with Japan.

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