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Defense Ministry shelves proposal to shift U.S. Ospreys to Saga

Kyodo

The Defense Ministry has decided to lay aside a proposal to temporarily relocate the U.S. military’s local MV-22 Osprey fleet to Saga Airport from Okinawa Prefecture, after the United States raised objections, a government source said Friday night.

The U.S. reticence apparently stems from difficulties in redeploying troops with families and in securing a training area for the odd-looking tilt-rotor transport, which lands and takes off like a helicopter but can convert into a fixed-wing plane in mid-flight.

Instead, Japanese and U.S. officials are expected to hold talks on conducting training in Saga for a longer period so they spend less time around U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, according to the source.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera indicated that Saga Airport on Kyushu is still seen as a leading choice for an exercise location. He said Friday night on a TV program that Japan is talking to the United States about conducting drills outside Okinawa, where public resentment is high due to the U.S. military’s heavy presence there.

At a press conference Friday, ministry spokesman Hirofumi Takeda said the provisional relocation plan “hasn’t been ruled out in the course of examinations of options for effective use of the airport.”

The government has made no changes to its plan to deploy Self-Defense Forces Ospreys to Saga Airport, if it ever buys them.