WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Thursday it plans to operate the V-22 Osprey, a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, at U.S. bases in Japan, officially acknowledging the deployment for the first time.
“We anticipate that Ospreys will indeed operate in Japan. And we’ve told the Japanese government as much, where and when and how are things to be determined,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told a news conference.
Morrell said that the Osprey is “an incredibly effective form of airlift that will enhance our alliance capabilities.” He didn’t specify when the aircraft will be introduced in Japan, only saying “at some point.”
According to sources close to the matter, the United States aims to deploy the Ospreys at the planned replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, but that would likely draw fire from residents in the prefecture due to safety concerns as a number of people were killed during the aircraft’s test flights.
The deployment could affect the relocation plan of the Futenma base by causing a change in flight routes at the facility.
The Democratic Party of Japan-led government, fearing opposition from locals in Okinawa, has not acknowledged the deployment plan.
In Tokyo on Friday, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said any Osprey deployment would follow established U.S. trends.
“We are exchanging opinions at the working level on that assumption (of Osprey deployment),” Kitazawa said, adding that the U.S. has not yet formally notified Tokyo about its deployment in relation to the Futenma base relocation.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima separately expressed displeasure at the envisioned deployment, given the security risks posed by the aircraft.
At a Diet panel earlier this month, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada referred to the possibility of such a deployment taking place and indicated the government plans to explain to local governments in Okinawa about U.S. deployment plans and flight routes.
Meanwhile, Morrell suggested that Japan and the U.S. will study Tokyo’s proposal for joint use of the relocated Futenma base between U.S. forces and the Self-Defense Forces through their experts’ group.
The two countries agreed to relocate Futenma from a crowded residential area to a less densely populated area in Okinawa, but they still differ on the design of the replacement facility and aircraft flight routes, issues linked to the impact on the local marine environment and noise pollution.
Worries over China
Japan remains wary of China’s military might and is concerned about recent movements by Chinese vessels operating in Japanese waters, the Defense Ministry said in its annual white paper.
The 488-page Defense of Japan 2010 report also stresses the vital role played by U.S. military forces in protecting Japan as well as other nations in the region.
The white paper, approved by the Cabinet on Friday, says of China, “The lack of transparency in national defense policies and the direction of military power are a concern for the region and the international community including our country, and we need to carefully analyze it.”
The report marks the first defense white paper under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan.
A defense official said that in addition to concern over the lack of transparency about China’s spending, this year’s report highlights concern about the “direction of China’s military power.”
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