Kisarazu, Chiba Pref. – The Ground Self-Defense Force started test flights of its Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft at Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture on Friday, despite ongoing safety concerns.
One of the two V-22 Ospreys provisionally deployed to the camp carried out a hover maneuver, the first such flight in Japan of an Osprey owned by the SDF.
The GSDF will start flying the Osprey outside the camp on Tuesday, planning to begin test flights of others in the type shortly.
After test flights, the GSDF will spend about six months inspecting the equipment installed on the Osprey, including radio equipment, and carry out pilot training.
The government eventually plans to base 17 of the U.S.-made planes at the facility through July 2025 until they are permanently deployed to an airport in Saga Prefecture as a counter to China's growing regional assertiveness.
"It is good that we have successfully completed the hovering test," Col. Satoru Fuwa, who heads the unit in charge of Osprey operations, told reporters, adding that the GSDF will make utmost efforts to ensure safety and seek to improve flight capabilities.
Outside the Kisarazu camp, a group of residents opposed to the deployment of the Ospreys held a rally to protest the test flight.
Around 50 people held banners that read "We don't need Ospreys in Japan's sky" and other messages, while recording the flight with cameras.
"If more Ospreys are deployed, they will fly everywhere and destroy our lives with their noise," said Yugo Yoshida, who heads the group.
A Kisarazu resident in her 60s said that Ospreys "make more noise than other planes. We are concerned about where they will fly."
Local opposition in Saga over the aircraft's blemished safety record is behind the Ospreys' temporary deployment at the Kisarazu camp.
The ministry and Saga Prefecture agreed in August 2018 to deploy the Ospreys at Saga airport for four years from the fiscal year through March 2019.
But the accord has yet to be realized as arrangements between the prefecture and the landowners of the planned deployment site, as well as local fishermen opposed to the plan, have yet to be finalized.
The Ospreys will be used to transport members of the GSDF's Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade in Nagasaki Prefecture, which borders Saga.
The brigade is intended to boost defense for far-flung islands in the country's southwest, including the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by China and Taiwan.
Ospreys, which take off and land like a helicopter but cruise like a plane, have a record of accidents and mishaps in Japan and abroad. In 2016, an MV-22, the U.S. Marine Corps variant of the Osprey, crash-landed in Okinawa Prefecture.
Since 2012, U.S. forces in Japan have deployed 24 MV-22s at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, and five CV-22s at Yokota Air Base in the suburbs of Tokyo.
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