Japan and the United States will conduct drills involving the MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft in Okinawa from mid-September on Guam and Tinian Island, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.
The drills, which will last around three weeks, will be the first based on a Japan-U.S. agreement to increase exercises involving the controversial tilt-rotor aircraft outside Okinawa to reduce its base-hosting burden.
The two allies agreed during a “two-plus-two” security meeting of their foreign and defense chiefs in 2013 to move Osprey drills outside Okinawa, but the drills have so far been conducted on a limited basis.
Under the latest agreement, struck during a meeting of senior foreign and defense officials from both sides at the Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan will shoulder the related costs.
The central government hopes to show Okinawa that it is making progress in easing what the prefectural government and residents have described as its excessive burden in hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, a government source said.
The Japanese government is also hoping the exercise will help win over local government officials and residents in Okinawa who are opposed to relocating a contentious U.S. air base in the prefecture.
In line with an agreement with Washington, the central government wants U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to be moved from crowded Ginowan to a less populated, offshore area in the Henoko district of Nago.
Of the 24 MV-22 Ospreys stationed at the Futenma base, 16 will take part in the drills between Sept. 12 and Oct. 5.