Staff writer

OSHIMA ISLAND — In preparation for a joint disaster drill with local civilians in November, the Maritime Self-Defense Force launched a newly commissioned, U.S.-built amphibious Hovercraft Tuesday for two day of landing drills on this island 120 km south of the heart of Tokyo.

The landing craft air cushion vessel is one of two LCACs aboard the 8,900-ton Osumi, Japan’s largest landing ship, which was commissioned in March at the MSDF base in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture. The Osumi replaced the Atsumi, which was retired in March.

At about 8:30 a.m., the LCAC left the Osumi, which had been standing by about 10 km off Oshima’s southern coast, and shuttled 12 MSDF troops to Sanohama beach half an hour later.

Kicking up spray and making a loud roar, the LCAC shuttled between the ship and the beach more than 10 times during the 2 1/2-hour exercise.

With a cargo area of 550 sq. meters, the LCAC can carry one type-90 main battle tank of the Ground Self-Defense Force. Along with shipborne helicopters, the vessel is expected to play a key role in emergency evacuation operations, particularly on remote islands.

MSDF officials said the LCAC provides flexibility in landing operations, unlike conventional MSDF landing ships, which need more space and a smooth beach. “Living on such a remote island, we have to count on the Osumi and its Hovercraft and helicopters if disaster strikes again,” said an Oshima town official in charge of disaster measures, recounting an evacuation of the island in 1986 during the eruption of Mount Mihara.

All 10,000 islanders were evacuated then with the help of the MSDF, the official said, noting the experience prompted his municipal government to request that the Osumi join in the November drill.

Although the commissioning of the LCAC has stirred noise pollution worries among residents in Kure, the Oshima official said: “It’s impossible to tell what the effect will be. We’ll have to wait and see.”

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