Defense Ministry will seek funds to buy Ospreys next year

JIJI

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Thursday the ministry would request funds to buy the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft in the fiscal 2015 state budget.

The government’s medium-term defense program, compiled in December, includes plans to acquire 17 of the aircraft for the Ground Self-Defense Force by fiscal 2018.

How many Japan buys in fiscal 2015 should be decided through price negotiations with the United States, Onodera told reporters at the U.S. Department of Defense after taking a ride on an Osprey.

“Ospreys would be useful in disaster relief missions and the transport of patients,” he said. “They would also be important in the defense of our territory, including remote islands,” he added.

Some Japanese residents harbor reservations about noise from the hybrid aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but cruises like a plane, as well as its checkered safety record. The Osprey fatally crashed several times during its costly development since 1985, killing about 30 people.

Onodera said the test flight gave him a good impression of the performance of the aircraft, which only became operational in 2007.

“Its motion was very smooth, and the noise was not so loud, compared with large helicopters,” he said. “The Osprey is an excellent aircraft.”

Onodera began an eight-day visit to the U.S. on Sunday. He arrived in Washington on Thursday and held talks with Gen. John Paxton, assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. Onodera called on Paxton to move part of the Osprey training program from Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture to bases outside the remote prefecture. Currently, 24 MV-22 Ospreys are deployed at the base, in the city of Ginowan.