• Kyodo

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Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera tried Monday to win over Saga Prefecture officials to his ministry’s plan to deploy V-22 Osprey transport aircraft at Saga Airport.

The Self-Defense Forces plan to eventually deploy 17 of the controversial tilt-rotor aircraft there.

In a meeting with Onodera in the city of Saga, Gov. Yasushi Furukawa effectively accepted the ministry’s plan to request money in the budget for the next fiscal year to acquire land around the civilian airport to build an SDF facility adjacent to it.

“I’m not in a position to say something about the internal process of the Defense Ministry,” the governor said during the meeting, which was open to reporters. Still, Furukawa noted that the prefectural government has received “many inquiries” about the Osprey’s safety. “We’d like to ask the central government to sufficiently explain its plan to local people,” he said.

Onodera said Japan’s defense depends on the SDF using the combat troop carrier.

V-22 aircraft can take off and land like a helicopter and fly at high speeds like an airplane.

The Defense Ministry, which wants the aircraft to defend Japan’s remote islands and for disaster relief, plans to introduce 17 Ospreys by fiscal 2018.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to reduce Okinawa Prefecture’s burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities. It plans to allow the U.S. military to use Saga Airport to refuel and maintain the U.S. Marines’ MV-22 Osprey aircraft deployed in Okinawa, Onodera said.

But the United States is not sold on the proposal. A sticking point in talks between Tokyo and Washington is whether some training exercises using the aircraft can be conducted at Saga Airport, according to Japanese officials.

The Ospreys are deployed at Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma, the controversial base that officials want to relocate within Okinawa’s main island.

“The security environment facing Japan is severe, so I believe (local people) will understand the importance of the role that the SDF will play on remote islands,” Onodera told reporters after the meeting, referring to China’s maritime assertiveness.

The central government had originally considered a plan to temporarily transfer the Ospreys to Saga Airport until the facility in Okinawa’s Nago to replace Futenma is completed.

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