Osprey drill in Niigata, Gunma eyed

Kyodo

Japan and the United States are planning to hold a joint drill using U.S. MV-22 Osprey aircraft deployed at U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa in Niigata and Gunma prefectures in February and March, a government source said Wednesday.

The joint exercise is aimed at boosting defense capabilities for remote islands such as the Senkaku chain, the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea also claimed by both China and Taiwan.

But by holding the drill outside Okinawa, the government is also apparently hoping to win the approval of Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for the planned Futenma replacement base within the prefecture by showing willingness to mitigate Okinawa’s base-hosting burden.

Defense Ministry officials will brief local authorities in the two central prefectures about the planned drill to seek their approval, according to the source.

As part of efforts to ease the burden on Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, the ministry is considering holding more Osprey drills outside Okinawa.

Under a Japan-U.S. agreement, the Futenma base in the densely populated city of Ginowan is to be replaced by a new airstrip to be built in a less-crowded coastal area in Nago, despite calls from local residents to move it out of the prefecture.

Attention in the long-running issue is now on whether Okinawa will authorize a project to fill in offshore areas to accommodate the runways of the replacement facility in Nago’s Henoko district near Camp Schwab. Nakaima is expected to make a decision on the matter soon.