National

Probe launched over abrupt change in MSDF's next chopper pick

Kyodo

A special unit under the defense minister is investigating whistleblower information that the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s preferred choice for its next-generation utility helicopters, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani admitted Friday.

Although the minister declined to elaborate, ministry sources said Thursday that the MSDF’s preferred choice has been improperly changed by the brass at the Maritime Staff Office from the model proposed by officials in charge.

“To ensure fairness in the procedure, a defense inspection is under way,” Nakatani told a news conference, while stressing, “It is not because any irregularities or scandal have been confirmed.”

“We are hoping to invite tenders in a manner in which fairness can be demonstrated,” he added.

According to the sources, officials in charge of the selection had proposed a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. SH series model, part of the same line as the UH-60J choppers now in use. But the choice was later changed to the MCH series of Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. by the brass at the Maritime Staff Office, the sources said.

The selection process has been suspended due to the probe by the Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance, launched in 2007 following a bid-rigging scandal over defense procurement. The inspector general is a former superintending public prosecutor.

MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Tomohisa Takei declined comment on the probe when contacted by Kyodo News, saying he is “not in a position to take questions” about such a special inspection and adding the MSDF “is currently taking the equipment selection procedure carefully, giving heed to compliance.”

While the UH-60J is used for rescue operations, its successors are expected to be borne aboard escort ships, the sources said.