Japan and the United States are considering using U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft in a joint disaster drill planned for October, government officials said Tuesday.
The drill, which will simulate the response to a powerful earthquake, also appears to be aimed at easing lingering local opposition to the Osprey by focusing on the transport aircraft’s usefulness in the event of a disaster, political observers say.
The exercise involving the Self-Defense Forces and U.S. forces is the first of its kind organized by the SDF and is based on a scenario of an earthquake centered on the Nankai Trough off central and western Japan, the officials said.
Areas likely to be affected in the event of such a quake — including parts of Aichi, Wakayama and Kochi prefectures — are being considered as sites for the exercise, they said. The U.S. military joined a disaster exercise together with the SDF last September hosted by Shizuoka Prefecture.
The envisioned disaster exercise is aimed at capitalizing on the experience of the U.S. Operation Tomodachi relief operations, which played a key role in helping disaster victims and reconstruction efforts right after the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region, the observers said.
Operation Tomodachi also left a good impression of the U.S. military on the Japanese public, they said.
According to the officials, the Defense Ministry sounded out the United States last month on having a disaster drill in areas along the Pacific coast that are at risk of being affected by tsunami in the event of a Nankai quake.
Washington appeared keen about the idea and plans were hence floated to jointly use amphibious vehicles and Ospreys, they said.
The Japanese and U.S. governments are considering allowing operation of Ospreys for a longer period of time outside Okinawa, including joint drills with the SDF in addition to drills conducted solely by the U.S. military, the officials said.
Through the envisioned joint exercise, the Japanese ministry hopes to “create an environment” that would enable more U.S. military drills to be held outside Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, a senior ministry official said.
The controversial MV-22 tilt-rotor planes have been deployed to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is in a crowded residential area on Okinawa Island, despite local protests due to their safety record overseas.
Local opinion against the Ospreys further hardened with the Aug. 5 crash of a U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter within another U.S. base in Okinawa.
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