The Yomiuri Shimbun
Another serious accident has occurred involving a U.S. Osprey military transport aircraft. The U.S. military should take the situation seriously to heart, promptly determine the cause of the accident and disclose pertinent information.
The Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft belonging to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station crashed in waters off eastern Australia during a drill, an incident that killed three personnel. The Osprey in question is said to have fallen into the sea after accidentally striking the deck of a transport landing ship on which it was attempting to land.
The latest accident did not involve ordinary citizens. However, it was preceded by an accident that left an Osprey aircraft wrecked in waters off Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in December last year.
The Defense Ministry asked the U.S. military to voluntarily refrain from flying Ospreys in Japan. However, U.S. forces are regrettably continuing Osprey flights, saying the safety of such operations has been confirmed.
First, the U.S. military has a responsibility to offer even more detailed explanations about their grounds for confirming the “safety” of Osprey flights. Was the accident caused by just pilot error or did any problem arise from the aircraft itself? The U.S. military should do its utmost to fully investigate the cause of the accident and implement severe measures to prevent a repeat.
The Okinawa prefectural government has lodged a protest with U.S. forces and others, saying the latest accident was “unbearable and unpardonable for residents in the prefecture.” Okinawa Prefecture is a strategic foothold for U.S. forces operating in the Asia-Pacific region. If U.S. forces further exacerbate the feelings of local residents, it would affect their stable station in the prefecture.
Ensure future operations
Osprey planes have been flying over all parts of the nation for training and other purposes. There have also been more and more takeoffs and landings by Osprey aircraft at bases such as U.S. Yokota Air Base and Iwakuni Air Station.
As of September last year, the rate of serious accidents involving the same model of U.S. military aircraft stood at 2.62 per 100,000 flight hours — nearly equal to the average for all U.S. Marine Corps planes. However, it is true there has been a sequence of Osprey accidents thereafter, which has spread anxiety among local communities hosting the aircraft. The U.S. military needs to exercise caution in responding to the situation.
It is important to ensure there is no hindrance to the operation of high-performance Osprey planes from now on. The Osprey plane is designed to combine the functionality of a helicopter, which can take off and land vertically, along with that of a fixed-wing aircraft that can fly at high speeds. The aircraft boasts of being a great improvement from conventional transport helicopters regarding its maximum speed, radius of action and freight-carrying capacity.
In situations such as an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, Osprey planes would make it possible to effectively transport troops, thereby contributing to Japan’s security.
Osprey aircraft also played a helpful role in transporting relief supplies and conducting other activities in large-scale disasters such as a major typhoon that hit the Philippines and a big earthquake that affected Nepal, as well as the Kumamoto Earthquake, which struck in April last year.
The Ground Self-Defense Force has decided to introduce 17 Osprey planes as part of its efforts to defend the Nansei Islands, with the GSDF facilitating a plan to procure the aircraft. Securing the safety of Osprey planes is a task that also involves Japan.
Osprey planes are expected to be deployed in Saga Prefecture. Although the prefectural governor indicated a positive stance on accepting them in July, there are strong objections to the plan among people associated with the local fishing industry. To gain the understanding of the local communities to be affected, the Defense Ministry needs to offer even more careful, thorough explanations.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 9, 2017)