Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima is urging the central to stop the planned deployment of U.S. MV-22 Osprey aircraft at the Futenma air station following recent crashes abroad.
Nakaima told Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba and Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto during separate meetings Tuesday that Okinawa can’t allow the United States to deploy the tilt-rotor aircraft at the base until the causes of the accidents are determined.
Opposition in Okinawa to the deployment is running high. Elected officials and residents say they question the safety of stationing the aircraft, which has a history of fatal crashes, at the base in a crowded neighborhood of Ginowan.
The United States plans to replace 24 aging CH-46 helicopters currently at Futenma with the same number of Ospreys.
“Our No. 1 mission is to protect the lives and property of citizens,” Nakaima said at the outset of a meeting in Tokyo with Genba. “So we can hardly say ‘yes’ to the plan and would like to even ask for its cancelation.”
Genba told Nakaima that the crashes are a “serious” problem and the government is trying to obtain as much information about them as possible from Washington.
Both Genba and Morimoto, meeting with Nakaima and Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, stopped short of touching on the possibility of reviewing the deployment plan.
More than 5,000 people attended a rally Sunday in Ginowan against the deployment.
Last week, a U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey crashed during training in southern Florida, injuring five crew members. The accident followed a fatal crash of a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey in Morocco in April that killed two and injured two.
Morimoto told a Diet committee before meeting Nakaima that his ministry will set up a panel to independently evaluate the aircraft’s safety.
“After receiving a report from the United States about the accident, we would like to add our own assessment on how safety will be ensured,” he said.
The defense minister also said told a news conference that the government is urging the United States to provide it with even “preliminary” findings about the Florida accident.
Still, the U.S. Defense Department has said there are no plans to abandon the deployment.
Prior to the Florida crash, the United States had planned to first bring the aircraft to the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture around July 20 for safety checks and trial flights. The deployment at the Futenma base was expected for early August at the soonest.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will visit Okinawa Prefecture on Saturday for a memorial ceremony marking the end of the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.
Noda will not hold talks with Nakaima, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference.
Earlier, the central government had considered arranging a meeting with Nakaima to seek his consent over the deployment. The change in schedule is apparently due to growing concerns over the aircraft’s safety.