Protests greet arrival of controversial Ospreys in Japan
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The arrival of the U.S. military’s Osprey MV-22 aircraft in Japan was greeted by more public protest Monday, even as the Department of Defense agreed over the weekend to cooperate with a Japanese investigation into the aircraft’s safety.
About 11 protest boats — some carrying signs calling the Osprey dangerous — surrounded a Marine Corps base near Hiroshima as two squadrons of the aircraft arrived by ship for inspection before a final deployment to U.S. bases on Okinawa.
The Marine Corps is planning to upgrade its aging helicopter fleet on Okinawa with the new hybrid aircraft, but the deployment has triggered widespread safety fears and public opposition in Japan following recent incidents, including a fatal crash in April during U.S. training in Africa.
“We want to show [the government] that there is a strong protest here,” said Jungen Tamura, a city councilman in Iwakuni, where the Marine Corps air station is located. “I can’t agree with the Japanese government’s stance to bring these dangerous planes just because the U.S. military wants it.”
Okinawans are planning an island-wide protest in early August following a rally near the Futenma air station in June that drew thousands of Osprey opponents. The governor has said the deployment could trigger a public call for the closure of all U.S. military bases here.
Despite the delivery Monday, it is unclear when the Ospreys will fly. The Marines have said they are planning for a fall deployment, and the Japan government has repeatedly said it will confirm the safety before any flights are made over Japanese soil.
On Saturday, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters in Tokyo that the U.S. will assist a team of Japanese investigators who are expected to travel to the United States in the near future to review crash data and the safety record of the Osprey, which has been in service since 2007 and is flown by both the Marine Corps and the Air Force.
The MV-22 had a rocky development period, including some catastrophic accidents that killed crews and passengers, and has had difficulty escaping the public perception it is dangerous, despite a design overhaul that the military says made it one of the safest aircraft in the fleet.
The safety concerns among the Japanese public are “entirely appropriate,” Carter said, according to the Armed Forces Press Service. “And we are committed to providing your airworthiness experts with all of the data and all of the information about the entire flight history of the MV-22, including the two recent incidents, and allowing them to analyze that data and take every step they need to make to reconfirm the airworthiness of that airplane.”
The Japan ministry of defense said Monday it has not yet scheduled the fact-finding mission to the U.S. and is waiting to receive completed accident reports on the fatal Africa crash and a training incident in Florida that injured an Air Force crew.
“We have yet to receive information from the U.S. side as to when investigation reports will become available,” Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said Monday, according to a spokesman in Tokyo.
Japan will examine the documents and then decide when to send the team to the U.S., the spokesman said. The trip could occur in October and coincide with the Marine Corps plans to put the Osprey into operation, he said.
Stars and Stripes reporters Chiyomi Sumida and Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.