The Defense Ministry is weighing the possibility of equipping the Ground Self-Defense Force with the U.S.-built Osprey tilt-rotor military transport aircraft as early as fiscal 2015, sources said Tuesday.
The ministry hopes to use the aircraft, which can take off and land vertically like a helicopter and fly level and fast like an airplane, for the defense of remote islands and for disaster-relief operations.
With ¥8 million secured under the fiscal 2013 budget, the ministry has been studying the introduction of the aircraft. In fiscal 2014, it plans to seek ¥100 million to conduct further studies, according to the sources.
The Osprey is currently used by the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps. In Japan, the Marine Corps has deployed the MV-22 Osprey at Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.
There is local opposition to the Osprey in part because of past accidents abroad involving the hybrid aircraft in its development stage and in exercises. But the Defense Ministry said the aircraft have no inherent safety problems.
In an interim report drawn up in July toward the compilation of Japan’s new defense policy guidelines later this year, the ministry stressed that the Self-Defense Forces should have capabilities similar to those of the marines in order to strengthen the defense of remote islands, including the Japan-held Senkaku islets in the East China Sea that are at the center of strained relations with China, which is growing more confrontational over the territory.
The ministry is also considering procuring more amphibious landing vehicles for the GSDF under the fiscal 2014 budget after introducing four such vehicles in fiscal 2013, the sources said.