Heed sentiment on Osprey

The government is trying to persuade local governments concerned in Okinawa and Honshu to accept a U.S. plan to station 24 MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to replace the same number of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters stationed there.

The Okinawan people are worried about the safety and noise of the vertical takeoff and landing transport aircraft. On Tuesday, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima called on Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba and Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto to stop the deployment of the Osprey.

The government should not force the deployment of the Osprey unless the Okinawan people agree. Otherwise, it will only deepen their grievances and their feelings that Okinawa is being discriminated against. The government has a plan to bring the MV-22s first to the U.S. Marine base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. It hopes to bring the aircraft to Futenma later after demonstrating that the aircraft is safe through test flights.

The Osprey suffered a series of crashes after its first flight in 1989 and its development was once temporarily stopped. Thirty marines died in three separate crashes in the 1990s and in 2000. The Osprey has a carrying capacity about three times that of the CH-46 helicopter and has a range of about 3,900 km, enabling it to fly to the Korean Peninsula from Futenma.

Experts say the Osprey has a better safety record than the CH-46 over the past decade. Since 2001, six CH-46 helicopters have crashed with 20 fatalities. Still a CV-22, the U.S. Air Force’s version of the Osprey, crashed in Afghanistan in 2010, killing four. Two marines died and two others were seriously injured in an Osprey accident in April 2012 in Morocco.

Unlike most helicopters, the Osprey is reportedly incapable of executing autorotation emergency landing procedures where the rotor blades rotate freely after experiencing engine failure. It is only allowed to fly in Japan because of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.

Mr. Morimoto at one time hinted that the U.S. test reports on its safety may arrive after the Osprey aircraft are deployed to Futenma. This shows an insensitivity for the feelings of Okinawan people.

On June 13, a CV-22 crashed in Florida, injuring five. The latest Osprey crash will certainly help harden the opposition in Okinawa to the Osprey’s deployment to Futenma.

In Okinawa, the memory of the August 2004 crash of a CH-53D helicopter after it hit a building of Okinawa International University, adjacent to the Futenma base, is still vivid. The crash injured three marines. The U.S.’s refusal to allow Japanese authorities access to the crash site prior to the removal of the helicopter caused strong resentment among Okinawans.

There is reportedly a large-scale eight-year plan to renovate Futenma. The deployment of the Osprey to Futenma could reinforce a move to use the base semi-permanently. (A plan for low-flying exercises for the Osprey in parts of Japan is also reported.)

It is high time that the government heeded Okinawan people’s call for moving the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture.