Five Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft were formally deployed Monday at the U.S. military’s Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, despite opposition and safety worries among local residents.
The Defense Ministry hopes the deployment of the CV-22 Ospreys will enable timely responses to various contingencies in the face of China’s maritime assertiveness and uncertainty over the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
It is the first deployment of Ospreys outside Okinawa, where a total of 24 MV-22 Ospreys, another U.S. Marine Corps variant, are based. Okinawa is home to the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Over the next several years, the Yokota base will host a total of 10 Ospreys — which can take off and land like a helicopter and cruise like an airplane — with around 450 crew members and ground staff.
On Monday morning, some local residents opposing the deployment staged a rally near the base. The participants called for bolstered measures to ensure the safety of residents.
“Who would take the responsibility if an accident happens?” asked one of the participants.
Kanako Kawaguchi, a 40-year-old resident and mother of a young daughter who attends nursery school, complained that her family has already been disturbed by the U.S. military’s noise problems, adding that the Ospreys’ deployment will worsen her concerns.
Kazutada Tsuruta, who represents a citizens’ group calling for the abolition of the Yokota base, said the future risk of accidents involving the tilt-rotor aircraft will likely increase as the frequency of training flights increases.
The U.S. Air Force’s CV-22 is seen as more sophisticated than the MV-22 and more capable of nighttime flying as it is designed to carry special operation forces. Its terrain-following radar enables it to fly at low altitudes.
Local cities and a town near Yokota Air Base have been calling for the U.S. military to fly the aircraft in accordance with a bilateral agreement not to conduct nighttime flights in principle, and to provide information on training in a timely manner.
Flights over the Tokyo metropolitan area could stoke concern among local residents due to the Osprey’s history of accidents and mishaps in Japan and abroad.
Two CV-22s made emergency landings at an airport in Kagoshima Prefecture on their way to Okinawa in June.
The five Ospreys have effectively been deployed since April when they arrived at Yokota, conducting drills at a Self-Defense Forces training facility in Shizuoka Prefecture.
The Ospreys are expected to conduct exercises using airspace around Tokyo, including over Gunma, Nagano and Niigata prefectures. The U.S. military has notified Japan that the CV-22s will conduct take-off, landing, airdrop, and night flying drills around the Yokota base.
The Defense Ministry plans to acquire 17 Ospreys for the Ground Self-Defense Force and deploy them at Saga Airport in Kyushu.
The first batch of MV-22 Ospreys arrived at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in a crowded residential area of Ginowan in Okinawa, in 2012.
In 2016 an MV-22 Osprey crash-landed in Okinawa. There was a fatal crash in Australia the following year.