Flight line at Matsushima Air Base, August 2010. Flickr user TM454A

Matsushima Air Base, just north of Sendai, suffered heavy damage due to flooding during the tsunami that swept the region. Located just seven feet (2.2 meters) above sea level, Matsushima was also located right on the coastline, and the wall of water swept over the base and continued inland.

300 air base personnel, on leave at the time of the tsunami, are not accounted for. The missing reportedly lived in the nearby area. 18 F-2 fighters (pictured above) were also damaged, one pushed by the water and colliding nose-first with a building. Reports indicate those 18 fighters may not be salvageable for future use. Even the “gate-guardians” of the base, including two T-2 trainers, 1 F-104 Starfighter, and 2 F-86 Sabres, had sustained damage.

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Matsushima is right in the middle of the devastation, and if repairable could play a vital role in supporting relief operations all around it. The buildings may not be serviceable and fuel supplies may or may not be contaminated, but the air base is still miles of flat concrete capable of supporting helicopters, and it is still connected to the nearby community via Japan’s excellent roads. The U.S. Air Force maintains RED HORSE engineering teams designed to repair and return to service damaged airfields. Four such units exist, the closest being the 554th RED HORSE at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. It is unknown if the Japan Air Self Defense Force has a similar capability.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch