The government plans to introduce a special operations variant of the U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft for Self-Defense Forces to conduct dangerous and covert missions abroad, such as the rescuing of Japanese citizens, according to sources.
The Ground Self-Defense Force has a special anti-terror unit to carry out such operations. But the unit is still not fully capable and lacks specialized aircraft.
Under the government plan, the CV-22 Osprey, the special operations variant of the MV-22, will be deployed along with refurbished models of the GSDF’s UH-60 helicopter, the government sources said Saturday.
The CV-22 is widely seen as more capable of nighttime flying and its terrain-following radar enables it to fly at low altitudes, they said. The remodeled UH-60 is regarded as better armored and can be carried by the Air Self-Defense Force’s C-2 transport airplanes.
The controversial security legislation that came effect in 2016 expanded the scope under which the SDF can conduct overseas military operations.
Japan has been seeking to enhance its capability to rescue Japanese citizens overseas since the 2013 hostage crisis in Algeria in which 10 Japanese were killed.
The GSDF is also eyeing the use of special aircraft in the event that Japan’s remote islands are occupied by foreign forces, according to the sources.
At U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, 24 MV-22s have been deployed since 2012.
The Defense Ministry is considering introducing CV-22s among the 17 Ospreys it plans to deploy at Saga airport on the island of Kyushu, according to the sources.
The ministry was supposed to deploy the aircraft over four years from fiscal 2018, but it has postponed delivery of the first batch of five planes from the United States. That is because the government has struggled to win local consent due to concerns over the Osprey’s safety record.
The new security laws loosened the constraints of Japan’s postwar pacifist Constitution on military matters. They have allowed for SDF participation in foreign peacekeeping operations at the request of international organizations not under United Nations control.
Rescue operations in other countries might not only put SDF members’ lives at risk but also create situations in which they are forced to return fire at armed groups. The Constitution bans the use of force abroad.