YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Two of the Navy’s new P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft have arrived at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Navy officials in Japan said Monday.
The P-8’s long-planned arrival in the western Pacific comes about a week after China unilaterally declared a broad swath of the East China Sea’s air space as its national air defense identification zone and demanded that military aircraft identify themselves and file flight plans with the Chinese government.
The United States, Japan and other Asian nations have stated that their military aircraft will not recognize the zone, which includes airspace over the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands.
China also claims the uninhabited islands, which are valued for the energy and food resources in their nearshore waters.
The two patrol aircraft left Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., on Nov. 29, and later landed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi for refueling before touching down in Okinawa, Navy officials said.
Another four P-8s will arrive during the next few weeks, according to the Navy.
In October, Japan and the United States jointly announced, during a visit by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, that the P-8 squadron would arrive sometime in December.
By taking off for its first deployment, the aircraft has achieved initial operational capability, according to a statement. Although the definition can vary greatly, initial operational capability typically means that a plane can do its job, but that additional systems work is needed for full capability.
The P-8 specializes in submarine detection and replaces the Orion P-3, which has patrolled the Pacific since its introduction in the 1960s. Experts say that while the P-8 will have new active sonar and periscope detection radars, the move is more about upgrading the airframe.
Poseidon is also designed to work with the under-development MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Triton drone. Defense officials have previously said that the drone will deploy in future years to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, about 1,400 miles from Okinawa.