SAPPORO – A U.S. MV-22 Osprey took part Friday in a joint exercise in Hokkaido between the Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Marine Corps.
The tilt-rotor transport aircraft joined the exercise amid local opposition spurred by the central government’s decision to retract its request for the United States to suspend Osprey flights because of the fatal Osprey crash off Australia.
The fatality-ridden safety record of the Osprey has raised concern for decades.
Friday’s joint exercise, which was open to the media, was the first to involve an Osprey since an Okinawa-based MV-22 crashed after hitting a U.S. warship off Australia on Aug. 5.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tuesday that up to six Ospreys would be involved in the exercise. The first arrived in Hokkaido just before noon Friday from U.S. Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture at around 10:40 a.m., the Defense Ministry’s regional bureau said.
About 1,300 GSDF personnel and 2,000 U.S. troops are involved in the exercise, which began on Aug. 10 and will finish on Aug. 28, the headquarters of the GSDF’s Northern Army said.
The Ospreys were scheduled to join the exercise from the start and will conduct night flights, a source close to the ministry said.
The government asked the U.S. to cancel the Ospreys’ participation in the drill after the crash in Australia, but approved the restart of MV-22 flights on Aug. 11 after a U.S. safety briefing.
The MV-22 crash off eastern Australia on Aug. 5 left three U.S. Marines dead. The Osprey involved had been deployed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.
Residents near the exercise area remain concerned that the Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but can cruise like an airplane, are unsafe.
“The crash off Australia happened just recently. I’m worried whether its safety was really confirmed and I’m afraid of the aircraft flying over the area around my house,” said Hideo Nonaka, 77, who lives near the exercise area.
Another 77-year-old said her son is participating in the drill and that she wants to support him but remains worried there might be accidents and noise.
A 19-year-old student said he does not want any accidents to occur but added “there is no choice but to accept” the Osprey if it is necessary for the exercise.
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