The recent crash of a Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter into a civilian residence in Saga Prefecture has sent shockwaves through the government. Concerns have erupted that the accident may undermine public trust in the Self-Defense Forces and affect the plan to deploy Ospreys to Saga Airport.
At the moment it remains to be seen how much the accident will impact the Osprey deployment plan. “As we have already faced difficulty in reaching a consensus with local communities regarding the Osprey plan, the accident will inevitably have some impact on the deployment plan,” said a senior official with the Ministry of Defense. The head of the policy coordination division in the Saga prefectural government office noted that “with public anxiety growing in the prefecture, we want the central government to investigate the cause of the accident and take safety measures in a resolute fashion.”
In March, the GSDF will newly launch an “amphibious operation unit” based at its Ainoura camp in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, to bolster its defenses along the Nansei Islands. The GSDF plans to deploy Ospreys at Saga Airport, which is located about 60 km away from the camp, as a transportation means for the unit and to ensure that it can operate flexibly. But local fishermen, who are landowners there, do not support the idea. The deployment plan, which the government seeks to implement from fiscal 2019, has been facing difficulties. The helicopter crash will make the deployment even more difficult.
The GSDF will introduce 17 Ospreys, the first of which will be delivered by the U.S. side around November this year. The Defense Ministry is currently considering temporarily deploying them to the Takayubaru camp in Kumamoto Prefecture or the Kisarazu camp in Chiba Prefecture, a maintenance site for Ospreys, for the time being. But a delay in the Saga deployment plan may obstruct the mission of the amphibious operation unit.
“Given that even a [SDF] helicopter could crash into a house, we are more worried about the Ospreys, as the aircraft has crashed often in Japan and elsewhere and its safety is not confirmed,” said a local seaweed farmer who lives near Saga Airport and is protesting the deployment plan. “The accident makes us feel that there is danger right next to us and anti-deployment campaigns will grow stronger.” (Abridged)