CHIBA – A V-22 Osprey arrived Friday at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture, where the government plans to keep 17 of the U.S.-made tilt-rotor transport aircraft for up to five years before permanently deploying them to Saga Prefecture.
Local opposition in Saga over the aircraft’s checkered safety record required the temporary measure. The planned deployment to the southwest by the GSDF is intended as a counter to China’s growing regional assertiveness.
The first Osprey and another one were undergoing maintenance at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture following delivery by ship from the United States in May.
The Defense Ministry and Saga Prefecture agreed in August 2018 to deploy the Ospreys to Saga Airport for four years starting fiscal 2018. But the accord has been delayed by negotiations between the prefecture and landowners at the deployment site, including fishermen opposed to the plan.
After a month of maintenance checks in Chiba, the Ospreys are expected to be used for drills as early as August. Their flight area will initially be limited to above Camp Kisarazu and gradually widened later, according to the Defense Ministry.
Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi has said the prefecture will use part of the ¥10 billion ($93 million) in landing fees it will collect from the central government over 20 years to support local fishermen concerned about the impact that noise from the aircraft will have on their businesses.
Before Saga Airport opened in 1998, the local fishermen’s group and the prefectural government agreed that military and civilian aircraft would not share the facility.
The Ospreys will be the transport used by the GSDF’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which was set up in March 2018 in neighboring Nagasaki Prefecture. Dubbed the Japanese Marines, the brigade is responsible for defending the far-flung islands in the southwest, including the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Chinese vessels have repeatedly been entering Japan’s territorial waters around the uninhabited islets, which are administered by Japan but claimed by Beijing and Taiwan.
Ospreys, which take off and land like helicopters but cruise like planes, have a record of fatal accidents, making them unpopular.
Most recently, an MV-22, the U.S. Marine Corps variant, crash-landed in Okinawa in 2016. Another Osprey fatally crashed off Australia in 2017.
Since 2012, U.S. forces have deployed 24 MV-22s to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa and five CV-22s to Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo.
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