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TOKYO REPORT: Relocation of Ospreys in Japan likely to be delayed

  • March 3, 2021
  • , Jiji Press , 7:30 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, March 3 (Jiji Press)–Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force has started test flights of its Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft at Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, amid speculation that the temporary deployment of the planes at the base will last longer than planned.

 

“We will steadily move forward step by step to protect the life and property of the Japanese people,” Maj. Gen. Mitsuji Saratani, head of the helicopter unit handling Osprey operations at the camp, said at a ceremony to launch the test flight of the aircraft last November.

 

The Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces are bolstering the defense of the Nansei island chain in Japan’s southwest in the face of China’s maritime expansion. The GSDF has newly stationed guard units on Amami-Oshima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, and Miyako Island, Okinawa Prefecture. It is also advancing preparations for the deployment of troops on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa.

 

The main task of the Ospreys will be the prompt transportation of members of the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, set up at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan, in March 2018, to the island territory.

 

The ministry plans to deploy the Ospreys at Saga Airport in Saga Prefecture, which is located near Camp Ainoura. For the deployment, an agreement between the Saga prefectural government and local fishermen not to allow the joint use of the airport with the SDF needs to be amended. The prefectural government has decided to amend the accord but has yet to work out arrangements with fishermen.

 

As the landowners of the planned deployment site include many seaweed fishermen, the ministry is expected to start negotiations with them after the seaweed picking season ends this spring. The outlook for the negotiations remains unclear, however.

 

In July last year, the first two Ospreys arrived at Camp Kisarazu under a plan to relocate them and additional planes to Saga Airport within five years after the deployment of the first one.

 

“The relocation should be made as early as possible” to start joint drills with the brigade, a senior GSDF officer said.

 

The ministry therefore hopes to reach an accord with fishermen in Saga through the coming negotiations. Skepticism about the relocation within five years is emerging in the GSDF, however, against the backdrop of strong opposition to the plan among the fishermen.

 

A lawmaker of the governing Liberal Democratic Party with influence on the nation’s defense policy said, “It’s impossible to do so within five years in view of the situation in Saga.”

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