Japan and the United States may deploy a dozen CV-22 Ospreys at U.S. Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo next July in an apparent move to appease residents in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces, a Japanese government source said.
The deployment would base the funky tilt-rotor transport aircraft, which has a spotty safety record, on one of Japan’s main islands for the first time, the source said Saturday.
Tokyo and Washington initially planned to deploy 12 Ospreys at U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa to replace its C-130 transport planes.
But they have been forced to find another host base because of the Okinawa gubernatorial election next month, where a long-stalled project to shift a U.S. air base further north on the island is a major issue, the source said.
A major drive to oust the 24 Ospreys already stationed in the crowded city of Ginowan is already underway.
The bilateral plan to close U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and move it elsewhere on Okinawa is a major issue in the election, especially after Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima reversed his long-held resistance to the plan and granted consent for the relocation project to begin.
In July last year, Gen. Herbert Carlisle, Commander, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said Yokota was being considered as a possible base for the CV-22s outside Kadena.
Although Tokyo and Washington planned to make the final decision on the matter at the beginning of the year, it was delayed after municipal governments near the base, situated in the city of Fussa, asked the central government to retract the plan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to start assessing public resistance to the Yokota plan by renewing efforts to persuade local residents.
Public opposition to the vertical takeoff and landing aircraft is driven by its checkered safety history, which has been marred by several deaths.
Since an MV-22 flew to the U.S. Navy’s Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture for the first time on July 15, the Osprey has flown to the Tokyo region several times.