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Hashimoto to Abe: Fly Ospreys at Yao

Mayor's ploy draws local flak, sure to irk July voters

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader Toru Hashimoto proposed to the central government Thursday that some MV-22 Osprey flight drills be conducted at Yao Airport in Osaka Prefecture.

“We in local government can’t judge whether or not Yao could accept the Ospreys for training. That’s the job of the Japanese and American governments,” Hashimoto said following the meeting regarding the hybrid transport aircraft, which are based at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

“But unless local governments on Honshu speak up and ask for such discussion, it will never begin, and Okinawa’s base burden will not be reduced.”

For its part, the government said it will examine Hashimoto’s proposal. When he made it Monday, however, Yao Mayor Seita Tanaka was quick to nix the idea.

“We genuinely welcome the proposals as both Japanese and U.S. authorities are now considering whether it’s possible for the Ospreys to conduct flight training outside of Okinawa,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Hashimoto, along with Osaka Gov. and Nippon Ishin Secretary General Ichiro Matsui, met Thursday morning in Tokyo with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Suga to discuss the idea. Also joining the meeting was former Diet member Mikio Shimoji, who heads Sozo (the Political Group of Okinawan Revolution).

Shimoji and Nippon Ishin in early May signed an accord to cooperate in the July Upper House election, during a trip to Okinawa by Hashimoto. Shimoji supports the contentious plan agreed upon by the U.S. and Japan to build an airstrip on the Henoko coast in Nago, Okinawa, to replace Futenma, and is seeking to defuse local opposition.

All 41 Okinawa towns and villages, the prefectural assembly, the Okinawa chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party and Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima oppose the Henoko plan.

Hashimoto says bringing the MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft to Yao for training is something he’s thought about since his meeting with Shimoji last month. But in Osaka, the move is widely seen as a stunt designed to appease U.S. anger over his comments in mid-May that U.S. servicemen in Okinawa should make more use of local sex establishments, and as a bid to win back political points with the Tokyo establishment, especially Abe and his LDP, which backs the Henoko relocation.

Yao Mayor Tanaka has expressed his objection and other cities in and around Yao that might be below the proposed Osprey flight paths are sure to oppose the plan. Yao has long been one of, if not the strongest, bases of support for Hashimoto, but Nippon Ishin members in Osaka worry the proposal will lead to a voter backlash in the July poll, a possibility Hashimoto also recognizes.

“This proposal is not advantageous for the Upper House election. It’s going to be more of a disadvantage,” Hashimoto said.

Logistically, having the Ospreys train at Yao is problematic. Issues of fuel supply, storage and maintenance will have to be resolved, and the costs are unknown.

Also, Yao Airport, which has two runways and hosts a Ground Self-Defense Forces air unit, police and fire department helicopters, and numerous private planes and helicopters, is already quite crowded. Procuring additional land to accommodate the Ospreys would be expensive and likely to further inflame local opposition.

Information from Kyodo added

  • Yoshio Shimoji

    Yao Air Port is a general aviation airport (a second-class airport according Japan’s aviation law) with two intersected runways, one 1,490 meters in length and the other 1,200 meters. An aerial photograph shows the airport is located in the middle of a densely populated residential area of Yao City, part of greater Osaka Metropolitan, seemingly more dangerous than Futenma. It’s said that there are 650 hazardous objects such as tall buildings and trees around the airport with heights exceeding aviation law-sanctioned limits.

    How could Mayor Toru Hashimoto say Osaka is ready to host Osprey training drills at such an airport? Just a lip service for Okinawa because he knows well enough that Yao residents will never accept his political hoopla? Or is it just a red herring to distract people’s attention away from his recent gaffe?

    Why can’t he simply ask Washington to relocate Futenma’s functions to the U.S. mainland where Ospreys’ flight training can be carried out without any heed to hazardous conditions inherent
    in Yao Airport and Futenma Airportt?

  • nobuo takamura

    This issue has two aspects, one of which is the high rate of US naval occupation in Okinawa and the other of which is the safety of tilt-rotor helicoptors. Yao airport works as some part of a substitute as a US naval base in terms of its training. But it’s another story for USA. It depends on Yao residents’ willingness and US acceptance of this proposal. As for the safety of Ospreys, we Japanese don’t need any of them. USA produced them for the sake of their military strategy in Far East of Asia. Conventional helicoptors are sufficient for natural disasters preparedness, not for overseas wars.