Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and U.S. counterpart Leon Panetta were set to meet later Friday in Washington, with the contentious dispatch of MV-22 Ospreys to Japan topping the agenda.
The talks at the Pentagon on the first day of Morimoto’s visit come as alarm grows at home over the tilt-rotor aircraft’s safety record following two recent crashes.
It will be Morimoto’s first meeting with Panetta, as well as his first overseas visit, since being appointed to the post in June.
Before his departure, the minister told reporters he will ride aboard an MV-22 during his three-day trip to gain firsthand information and better explain how the aircraft works to an increasingly concerned public.
“I will check the stability of the aircraft and the noise generated,” he said.
Morimoto added that he would “ask the United States to swiftly provide (more) information” on an MV-22 crash in April that killed two marines in Morocco during the Pentagon talks, and convey to Panetta local governments’ fears over the planned deployment of Ospreys to the Futenma air base in Okinawa.
Despite mounting protests, 12 MV-22s were offloaded last month at the U.S. Iwakuni air station in Yamaguchi Prefecture prior to their deployment to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the crowded Okinawa city of Ginowan.
In view of the levels of opposition in Yamaguchi and Okinawa, Tokyo and Washington have agreed to postpone all Osprey flights until the causes of the Morocco crash, as well as the reasons a CV-22 Osprey crashed in Florida in June, are thoroughly reviewed and the aircraft’s safety is confirmed.
Morimoto said he will also discuss the future of the Japan-U.S. security alliance with Panetta, as well as the long-stalled relocation of the Futenma base’s operations and other issues.