National / Politics

Saga Prefecture to receive ¥10 billion from Japan’s Defense Ministry after agreeing to host Ospreys at airport

Kyodo, JIJI

Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi said Friday he will accept a Defense Ministry plan to deploy Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft to an airport in his prefecture, with the state promising to pay ¥10 billion ($90 million) over 20 years as landing fees.

“I decided to accept the ministry’s request after comprehensive studies and careful consideration,” Yamaguchi told a news conference at the prefectural government’s office.

According to a Defense Ministry official, the southwestern prefecture will use part of the ¥10 billion to support local fishers, who are concerned that the aircraft’s noise may affect their businesses.

The ministry agreed to pay the sum as Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited Saga Prefecture to meet the governor and the head of a local fishers’ group on Friday.

Onodera told the group’s chief that the ministry plans to conduct a thorough study on the effects of the Osprey’s noise on fish.

The ministry seeks to deploy 17 newly acquired Ospreys at Saga airport to strengthen Japan’s ability to protect outlying islands amid China’s increasing maritime presence.

It is considering sending five of the 17, which are expected to arrive from the United States as early as the autumn, to the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture, as Saga airport is unlikely to be ready for their deployment by then.

Tokyo has faced difficulty in pushing ahead with the plan since a GSDF AH-64D attack helicopter crashed into a home in Kanzaki, Saga Prefecture, in February, resulting in the deaths of the pilot and co-pilot as well as a minor injury to a girl who fled the building.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military plans to deploy five Ospreys to Yokota Air Base in the suburbs of Tokyo on Oct. 1 as part of a plan to introduce a total of 10 such aircraft to the base over several years.

The U.S. military has informed the Defense Ministry that the five Air Force CV-22 aircraft will engage in landings and takeoffs, supply airdrops and night-flying drills around the Yokota base.

U.S. government data shows that the rate of severe accidents involving the Marines’ MV-22 variant of Ospreys as of September last year had risen about 1.7 times from the figure released in April 2012.

But Defense Ministry officials have claimed that the rising percentage of accidents has nothing to do with the safety of the Osprey itself.

The ministry said the GSDF has no plans to conduct aerial refueling missions or other operations above Saga Prefecture, as part of its safety measures.