The U.S. military has ignored the Japanese government’s request to suspend Osprey aircraft operations in Japan, showing disregard for its key ally’s safety concerns.
Following the crash of a U.S. Marines Osprey aircraft in northeastern Australia, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Aug. 6 asked the United States to refrain from flying Ospreys in Japan until the cause of the accident is determined.
The day after Onodera made the request, however, the U.S. military allowed an Osprey aircraft to take off from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, acting as if it had not heard Tokyo’s request.
It is shocking to see the U.S. military’s insensitivity to the safety issue as well as concerns among people in Japan and Okinawa Prefecture.
When an Osprey crash-landed off Nago in the prefecture in December, the U.S. forces resumed full operations of the aircraft only six days later. The Japanese government approved the decision.
Osprey flights before the cause of such an accident is cleared up are unacceptable.
This time around, the Japanese government should continue strongly demanding that the U.S. military and government suspend the operations of the accident-prone aircraft in Japan.
There have been major accidents involving Ospreys around the world almost every year.
Such accidents occurred in Afghanistan in 2010, in Morocco and Florida in 2012, in Nevada in 2013, in the Persian Gulf in 2014, in Hawaii in 2015 and off Nago last year.
In regard to the crash-landing off Nago, the Japanese government has yet to receive a U.S. report on the accident despite a bilateral agreement that requires the U.S. military to provide such a document to Japan within six months in principle.
Few would believe that the United States has made effective efforts to prevent another accident involving the aircraft.
The U.S. military has reportedly told Tokyo that safety is secured for Osprey flights in Japan. But such a claim will do little to allay the anxiety of local residents.
The Osprey that crashed off Australia was stationed at the Futenma airbase and frequently flew over Okinawa Prefecture.
In the Marine Corps’ Camp Hansen in the village of Ginoza, also in Okinawa Prefecture, Ospreys have been conducting drills until late at night in a landing area close to the houses of local residents.
In July, the U.S. military started Osprey exercises without advance notice using a newly built landing area in the U.S. Marines Northern Training Area in Okinawa Prefecture. The move ignored a request from local governments that such exercises be avoided.
The drills have been frequently conducted after 10 p.m., generating anxiety and anger among local residents.
Ospreys assigned to the Futenma base have flown to U.S. and Self-Defense Forces bases in other parts of the nation and conducted exercises. Such facilities include Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Yokota Air Base in Tokyo and Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Six Ospreys are expected to participate in the joint Japan-U.S. exercise scheduled to start in Hokkaido on Aug. 10.
In addition to the Marine Corps, the U.S. Air Force plans to deploy Ospreys to Yokota Air Base. The Ground SDF is considering deploying the aircraft to Saga Airport in Saga Prefecture.
At the GSDF’s Kisarazu Air Field in Chiba Prefecture, regular maintenance operations for Ospreys have been launched.
Concerns about the safety of Ospreys are not just a problem for Okinawa Prefecture. The entire country needs to be involved in dealing with the issue.
The crash off Australia should not be brushed aside merely as an accident that has occurred in another country.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 8