WASHINGTON – A Pentagon official has told a visiting official from Okinawa that the United States is mulling the deployment of tilt-rotor CV-22 Ospreys to the Asia-Pacific region, including the dispatch of 10 of the aircraft to Okinawa.
Susumu Matayoshi, head of the Okinawa governor’s executive office, told reporters that Christopher Johnstone, the Pentagon’s director for Northeast Asia, touched on the plan during a meeting Friday in Washington. Marc Knapper, director of the State Department’s Office of Japanese Affairs, also attended the get-together.
It is the first time a U.S. government official has admitted that CV-22s — the U.S. Air Force’s variant of the MV-22 Ospreys used by the Marine Corps — could be deployed to the region. Washington has also notified Tokyo of its plan to possibly begin stationing around 10 CV-22s at the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in about two years’ time, according to the sources.
U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley also suggested the Pentagon is considering this option.
But Matayoshi said that during his meeting with Johnstone and Knapper, he informed them in no uncertain terms that the Okinawa Prefectural Government cannot permit the deployment of CV-22s to Kadena.
Matayoshi also told them the prefecture has found that the MV-22 Ospreys based at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa Island violated an earlier bilateral agreement on their flight operations. Johnstone, however, argued the U.S. military has abided by the accord and reiterated Washington’s view that the aircraft are completely safe, according to Matayoshi.
Following their meeting, Pentagon press secretary George Little issued a statement saying: “As part of the planning process, the Department of Defense evaluates a range of possible basing options for our forces. That process is currently ongoing and includes multiple locations in the Asia-Pacific region.
“(But) any deployment of the (U.S.) Air Force CV-22 to the Asia-Pacific region is years away, and no construction has begun to support such a deployment.”
Last year’s deployment of 12 MV-22s at the Futenma base triggered a storm of opposition due to its spotty safety record, and the plan to send over CV-22s will anger local residents even more.
Concerns over the aircraft have grown in Japan since the fatal crash of an MV-22 in Morocco last April and a June training crash of a CV-22 in Florida that injured five crew members. The Pentagon’s official investigations stated that human error was a factor in both crashes, and that no technical glitches had been detected.
Under the bilateral accord on Osprey flights over Japan, the hybrid transport aircraft should only be in vertical takeoff and landing mode within U.S. military facilities and training areas, and avoid flying over such places as hospitals and schools as much as possible.
Ichita Yamamoto, minister in charge of Okinawa issues, vowed Saturday to work toward reinvigorating the prefecture’s economy.
“We must fully work to promote Okinawa’s economic growth, taking into account its history, social conditions and geopolitical importance, as well as the fact that the prefecture hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan,” Yamamoto said at a meeting with Okinawa Vice Gov. Yoshiyuki Uehara.
His remarks came after Uehara submitted to the minister a set of Okinawa’s requests for the central government to consider, including a call for some ¥300 billion for measures to boost the regional economy under the state budget for the year from April 1.