2012: Year in review

US brings Ospreys to Okinawa

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 27, 2012

The deployment of Marine Corps Osprey aircraft to Okinawa this year proved to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the U.S.-Japan alliance of late.

The MV-22’s safety record stoked deep concerns among many Japanese and became an anti-military rallying cry on the small island, which has shouldered the majority of U.S. forces for generations.

In October, the U.S. and Japan said they had addressed any safety issues with the Osprey, including investigations of a deadly crash in Africa, and followed through with a deployment to the Futenma air station despite continuing widespread opposition and public protests.

The Okinawa government had begun its call to halt the Osprey deployment more than a year earlier, saying the move could increase local demands that the military leave the island.

The deployment was part of global effort to upgrade the Marine Corps fleet and replace the Vietnam-era Sea Knight helicopters that were a common sight over Okinawa for decades. By the time the service had decided to replace the helicopters on Okinawa, the Osprey had seen years of combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The military has had difficulty escaping the Osprey’s notorious past. During its development, the complex aircraft was involved in some catastrophic, deadly crashes — 19 Marines died in a 2000 test flight.

The Osprey design was retooled about 10 years ago and the Marine Corps has repeatedly said the aircraft has proven to be one of the safest in its fleet.

But an April crash in Africa killed two Marines, and the crash of an Air Force V-22 in Florida resulted in the complete destruction of the aircraft and injuries to the crew.

The incidents were powerful fodder for Okinawa opponents who claim the Ospreys are inherently flawed and dangerous, despite the military assurances. The wider Japanese public also took notice and Tokyo promised that the aircraft would not be flown over Japan until safety was assured through an independent investigation of recent crashes.

Meanwhile, there were protests over the deployment throughout the summer on Okinawa and the unrest culminated in a gathering of tens of thousands of Osprey opponents at a seaside park in August.

The concerns over safety are at least partly connected to past aircraft incidents on the island. In 2004, a Marine Sea Stallion crashed on a university campus near Futenma and Okinawans have insisted for years that the base is dangerous and must be closed.

As the October deployment date neared, the U.S. and Japan both announced that the Osprey crashes this year had been caused by crew errors and not by faulty aircraft.

Protesters gathered at Futenma air station gates and nearly blocked access to the facility for days just before a squadron of Osprey arrived from testing in Iwakuni.

U.S. forces in Japan have said the local safety concerns have receded following the investigations over the summer. However, anti-Osprey demonstrators remained around Futenma in early December.



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