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Japan Self-Defense Force plans temporary V-22 Osprey posting in Chiba prefecture starting next summer

A Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, like those purchased by Japan, makes an approach for landing during exercise Talisman Sabre on July 20, 2017.

MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES

By HANA KUSUMOTO AND MATTHEW M. BURKE | Published: December 26, 2019

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A city in Chiba prefecture has agreed to temporarily host Japan Ground Self-Defense Force V-22 Ospreys while negotiations for a more permanent home on the island of Kyushu continue, officials said this week.

The mayor of Kisarazu city, Yoshikuni Watanabe, announced Wednesday a temporary five-year deal to host the U.S.-made helicopter-plane hybrids at Ground Self-Defense Force Camp Kisarazu, located about 25 miles southeast of Tokyo, Watanabe said Wednesday in a statement posted on the city’s website. Watanabe informed Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono during a meeting that same day.

“We are in a position to basically cooperate with national defense policy as one local government as (the) security environment surrounding our country becomes ever more severe,” Watanabe wrote in his statement. It was a “very difficult decision when thinking about the safety concerns residents have and the expected burden the residents living near the base will face from the deployment.”

Kisarazu was chosen as an Osprey base because Japan sees the defense of its southern island chain, including Okinawa, Miyako and the Senkakus, as an “urgent issue,” according to a defense ministry report in May. Plans were previously made to permanently base 17 Japanese Ospreys farther south at Saga Airport, in Saga prefecture on the island of Kyushu.

However, talks between the prefecture and a local fishery cooperative stalled over using the airport for military purposes, a ministry spokeswoman said Thursday.
Ministry officials plan to continue to try and reach an agreement with the cooperative, she said.

In the meantime, the ministry in May asked Watanabe to accept the temporary deployment, Watanabe said. Area residents balked at the plan due to their concerns over the aircraft’s safety record and that a temporary deployment could lead to a permanent one, Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday.

Maintenance on U.S. military Ospreys is already performed at Camp Kisarazu by a Japanese contractor, officials have said previously.

Watanabe said Wednesday his cooperation came with conditions, such as assurances that the Ospreys will be stationed in Kisarazu no longer than five years and that the ministry will take thorough safety measures. Kono agreed to these stipulations, Watanabe’s statement said.

“The Ospreys … will be utilized effectively for national defense and disaster response,” the defense ministry spokeswoman said. “We will take all possible measures to operate them safely.”

Some government officials in Japan customarily speak on condition of anonymity.

The ministry chose Kisarazu as a temporary home for Japan’s newly acquired Osprey fleet because it has the mile-long runway needed, the space to house all 17 of the tilt-rotor aircraft and the deployment would have minimal impact on existing aircraft operations at the base, the report said.

The base is also within range of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s new Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which was launched in March 2018 at Camp Ainoura, northwest of Sasebo Naval Base in Nagasaki prefecture.

The brigade has been referred to as Japan’s version of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The only thing needed to facilitate the deployment is a temporary building to house the approximately 430 troops that will call the base home by March 2022, the report said.

The first two Ospreys will arrive at Kisarazu in June or July, the ministry spokesman said. All 17 aircraft are expected to be at the base sometime after March 2022.

burke.matt@stripes.com
Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1

kusumoto.hana@stripes.com
Twitter: @HanaKusumoto

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