The government has announced that the U.S. Marine Corps will train with Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in Shiga and Kochi prefectures in October. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the training will help reduce the burden on Okinawa Prefecture. Twenty-three Osprey aircraft are stationed at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma in the central part of Okinawa Island. Mr. Suga’s rhetoric is hard to understand since the Osprey will continue to be stationed at Futenma.
The Okinawa prefectural assembly and the 41 municipal assemblies in the prefecture have passed resolutions calling for the removal of the Osprey from Futenma, expressing fears about its safety and the increased burden on Okinawa. The planned training will result in spreading worries about the Osprey from Okinawa to other parts of Japan.
In Shiga Prefecture, the Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Marine Corps will carry out joint training in mid-October in the GSDF’s Aibano maneuvering grounds on the assumption that a war situation has developed. In Kochi Prefecture, training will be carried out in late October for Japan-U.S. cooperation to cope with a massive earthquake in the Nankai trough. From a Maritime Self-Defense Force ship off the prefecture, the Osprey will simulate searching for disaster victims and transporting patients to the Marine Corps’ Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Ospreys have already flown over the northern part of Kochi Prefecture for training. Neither Shiga nor Kochi Prefecture has been given detailed information about the training.
It is understandable that the local governments and residents have worries about the training involving the Osprey. It is reported that during the testing period from 1991 to 2000, Osprey crashes caused 30 fatalities and that after the aircraft became operational, the aircraft caused six fatalities.
On Aug. 26, a U.S. Marine Corps Osprey made a hard landing in a desert near Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, and caught fire. Although the four crew members escaped to safety, the crash has been designated a Class A accident, the most severe rating given to air incidents, meaning that overall damage exceeded $2 million.
The training in Kochi Prefecture under the scenario that a megaquake has occurred may be intended to alleviate local residents’ opposition to the training. But it is unlikely that the opposition or worries about the safety of the Osprey will easily go away. One wonders why the Osprey has to be used in the training. The SDF has helicopters whose capacity is larger than the Osprey’s.
The Defense Ministry plans to introduce the Osprey to the SDF in fiscal 2015 at the earliest. It once scrapped a plan to introduce the aircraft. Around 1990, the MSDF thought about using the Osprey as a successor to the US-1A flying boat for air-rescue work (the current US-2 is the updated version of the US-1A).
Former Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto disclosed in his recent book that the ministry gave up introducing the Osprey because its downward air current was so strong that it made rescue work impossible. The ministry must present a convincing reason why the SDF needs the Osprey.