U.S. may base Ospreys in Honshu

Kyodo

Japan and the United States are considering temporarily stationing the MV-22 Osprey, a transport aircraft that can take off and land vertically, at U.S. bases and other locations in Honshu, sources said Wednesday.

The proposed move, with some planes to be stationed as early as July, comes ahead of the plan to deploy the Osprey at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa in October, and is aimed at easing the prefecture’s concerns about the aircraft’s safety, the sources said.

Among the candidate sites are the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture and Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture, but nearby residents are likely to protest, according to the sources.

The Pentagon announced last June that it plans to replace the aging CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters at Futenma with Ospreys.

The U.S. had planned to deploy the first 12 in October, but residents in Okinawa expressed strong concerns about the noise and safety, given the aircraft’s history of fatal crashes during test flights.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima is opposed to the Osprey being deployed in the prefecture. He has said it is “unacceptable,” citing the aircraft’s record. Such opposition prompted the Japanese and U.S. governments to seek ways to alleviate Okinawa’s concerns, the sources said.

In a Diet session in February, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said it is “important to take steps to allay the fears” of the local residents and called on ministers dealing with Okinawa affairs to go aboard the Osprey on test flights.

The aircraft was first deployed for combat operations in 2007.