By political reporter Kenta Uemura
On April 5, five U.S. Air Force CV-22 Ospreys arrived at the U.S. military base in Yokota (in Tokyo) for training. The Ospreys are scheduled to be officially deployed at the Yokota base this summer, and this will be the first case of Osprey deployment outside Okinawa. While these aircraft are meant to enhance the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance, there is also an opinion that their arrival this time is part of the process of increasing pressure ahead of the U.S.-North Korea summit to be held before the end of May.
Ospreys have been involved in accidents both in Japan and overseas, so the local community has voiced concern.
Citizens’ groups opposing the Ospreys’ deployment started their protest actions in front of the Yokota base gate to coincide with the aircraft’s arrival.
The five Ospreys came to Yokota this time to participate in exercises in areas near Japan. They are expected to join the U.S.-ROK military exercises that started on April 1. The number of Ospreys will increase to 10 over a few years after their deployment in summer.
The Ospreys’ deployment in Yokota will be the second such case after that at the Futenma Air Station in Okinawa.
The U.S. government had originally planned for deployment from October 2019 to September 2020, but announced on April 3 that the scheduled had been advanced. U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) explained that this is “in line with the National Security Strategy released (in January) this year,” which calls for strengthening the bilateral security alliance in the Indo-Pacific. Ospreys may also be deployed at the USFJ base in Iwakuni (Yamaguchi Prefecture) in the future.
The Air Force’s CV-22s are similar in capabilities with the MV-22s stationed at the Futenma base, but they have enhanced flight capability at night and at low altitude. They are envisioned for use in “special operations,” such as entering enemy bases for assault against specified targets.
The USFJ stressed that the Ospreys’ deployment at Yokota will bring “incomparable special operation capabilities to our area of responsibility.” It is believed that this is meant to deter North Korea’s development of nuclear arms and missiles and China’s maritime push.
Retired Air Self-Defense Force Lt. Gen. Toshimichi Nagaiwa pointed out that the CV-22s may be used in “Operation Decapitation,” in which the North Korean leadership would be targeted in the event of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. He said that conducting drills in Japan’s vicinity at this time “can be seen as the U.S.’s message that a military option is possible depending on the outcome of the negotiations (on North Korea’s nuclear arms and missiles.” (Abridged)