National

MSDF chief in hot water for alleged interference in chopper contract: source

Kyodo

In a rare move, the Defense Ministry plans to reprimand Adm. Tomohisa Takei, chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, for exerting inappropriate pressure during the selection process for a next-generation helicopter to replace the UH-60J, government sources said.

Top-ranking officers are rarely reprimanded, but the decision was prompted by a probe conducted by a special unit under the defense minister, and based on whistle-blower information that alleged the MSDF’s preferred choice for the next-generation chopper was improperly changed, the sources said Thursday.

The incident will delay the MSDF’s plan to procure nine multipurpose helicopters by the end of March 2019. The choppers are being bought to counter China’s activities in the East China Sea and for other purposes.

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said Friday she would refrain from commenting on the case because the probe by the special unit is still ongoing.

The selection process for the helicopters has been suspended and the ministry is likely to face difficulty securing a budget for them, even though they are listed in the Medium Term Defense Program for fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2018.

Takei, 59, is just a month away from retirement. He entered the MSDF in 1979 and was vice chief of staff before assuming his current post in October 2014.

The probe did not confirm that the chopper manufacturers conducted lobbying efforts, but the ministry says Takei warrants a reprimand because the level of pressure he exerted exceeded internal regulations and because the case is actually affecting implementation of the national defense program.

The MSDF is shopping for a successor to the UH-60J, which it uses primarily for rescue missions.

Sources close to the matter said officials proposed purchasing the SH series of choppers made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. The SH series is from the same line as the UH-60J.

That choice was later changed to the MCH series made by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.

The Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance found that Takei pressured his subordinates through Vice Adm. Gojiro Watanabe, then a member of the Maritime Staff Office and currently commander of the MSDF’s Air Training Command.

Some ministry officials have said Takei strongly believed the MSDF should purchase a different model to avoid a situation in which all helicopters have to be grounded due to an accident.

But the inspectors apparently concluded that Takei’s behavior went beyond what could be construed as normal guidance and that there were compliance problems.

The Defense Ministry is considering admonishing both Takei and Watanabe, the government sources said.