WASHINGTON/IWAKUNI, YAMAGUCHI PREF. – Gen. Herbert Carlisle, commander of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces, indicated Monday that besides the Kadena base in Okinawa, Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo is a possible candidate site to host CV-22 Osprey transport aircraft.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Carlisle said discussions on the deployment are under way with the Japanese government and the final decision will probably be made early next year, with deployment possibly as soon as 2015.
If realized, this will be the first stationing of Ospreys outside of Okinawa. The CV-22 is the air force variant of the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22. An MV-22 squadron has been deployed to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa since last year, despite local opposition.
“There’s some issues with Kadena and Okinawa,” Carlisle said, citing the recent Upper House election in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party scored a decisive victory, and Abe’s “approach to things.”
Carlisle added that the U.S. hopes to work with the government of Japan to pursue the most prudent course toward accomplishing its goals.
“There’s a potential of moving into Yokota,” and Yokota and Kadena are “the two prime candidates,” he said of the possible CV-22 deployments.
A freighter carrying 12 MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft arrived Tuesday at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, prior to their deployment to Futenma in early August.
The 12 Ospreys, which can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like an airplane, along with another 12 already deployed to the Futenma base will replace aging CH-46 helicopters.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, however, has repeatedly called for canceling their deployment in his prefecture, which already hosts the bulk of U.S. military installations in Japan, in part due to past crashes abroad involving the aircraft.
The aircraft have been seen flying in vertical takeoff and landing mode over urban areas in Okinawa, allegedly in violation of a Japan-U.S agreement that stipulates that flights in that mode should be limited to within the boundaries of U.S. military facilities and areas, “except as operationally necessary.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo will work closely with Washington to ensure safe operations, acknowledging the concerns of people in Okinawa.
“We will hold necessary consultations with the U.S. side so they carry out operations properly” in accordance with a bilateral agreement on Osprey operations.
Suga meanwhile noted that Tokyo has not heard about the U.S. plan to deploy the CV-22, a day after Gen. Carlisle indicated the Yokota Air Base in Tokyo is a possible host besides the Kadena base in Okinawa.
The CV-22 is used by the air force for special operations. While it shares basic features with the MV-22, the CV-22 is said to be used more often under tougher conditions, including low-altitude flights.
In June last year, crew members were injured when a CV-22 crashed in Florida. Okinawa has taken the position that it prefers not to accommodate the aircraft.
Carlisle also indicated that Global Hawk drones currently deployed to Guam will be moved temporarily to Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture next year.
“We’ve looked at moving them up to Misawa because of the weather,” he said, adding that U.S. is still discussing the situation with Japan.
The plan is to move the drones next year during Guam’s summer typhoon season, when adverse weather can affect their operations, Carlisle said.