Six months have passed since the Osprey was deployed to Okinawa

April 1, 2013 Sakae Toiyama and Kenyu Uchima of Ryukyu Shimpo

On April 1, six months passed since the U.S. Marine Corps deployed the MV-22 Osprey vertical take-off and landing transport aircraft to U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station. The deployment occurred on October 1 last year based on an agreement with the Japanese government despite strong protests from the Okinawan people. The mayors of all 41 municipalities in Okinawa and the chairmen of the various assemblies have since presented Prime Minister Shizo Abe with a petition requesting that the U.S. and Japanese governments rescind the deployment of the Osprey aircraft. The Okinawan people still strongly oppose the aircraft’s deployment in the prefecture.

While the Marine Corps has begun low-level flight training of the Osprey in the main islands of Japan from March, it is yet to move the training off Okinawa to other prefectures, something which the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to consider.

In addition to the first squadron of 12 aircraft, the Marines are scheduled to deploy another 12 to Okinawa some time after this July.

The U.S. military is also considering deployment of the CV-22 Osprey, an air-force variant of the MV-22 to Okinawa.

The burden on Okinawa of hosting the U.S. military bases is expected to increase.
In cooperation with the municipalities in Okinawa, the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) has been implementing visual surveys of the flight operation of the Osprey. In its two-month report at the end of last December the OPG stated that 60 percent of the operations, including flights over densely populated areas, violated the agreement reached between the U.S. and Japanese governments. The OPG asked the Okinawa Defense Bureau director Hiroshi Takeda and the head of the Okinawa branch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Haruhisa Takeuchi, to investigate the actual details of the flights and check them against the terms of the agreement. Three months have passed but the central government is yet to respond to the request.

In a press conference held after the cabinet council on March 29, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera referred to the approximately 320 cases that the OPG has requested the Japanese government to look into as possible violations of the agreement, saying, “We are considering the cases, checking them one by one.” Onodera did not give a clear schedule for completion of this process, saying, “We can’t rush to a conclusion on this.”

Following the deployment of the Osprey to Okinawa, the Okinawa Defense Bureau has conducted visual inspection of flights, taking photographs of the aircraft. By means of a freedom-of-information request, the Ryukyu Shimpo was able to acquire documents regarding the visual inspection data collected by the bureau. The documents cover the locations of the visual inspection and what the aircraft was doing, such as taking off, landing or circling, but they lack information on the Osprey’s flight mode, which is important for verifying whether or not the U.S. Marines have violated the agreement on the Osprey flight operation.

Although the bureau seems to have conducted this verification process using photographs and other data, the reliability of the data and information can be questioned.

A top official of the Ministry of Defense opened up to say, “The U.S. Marines have to abide by the agreement unless operational necessity arises. Under the current conditions, it is difficult for us to point to violations of the agreement if the U.S. military asserts that it is an operational necessity.”

The official claimed that it is difficult to confirm whether or not the U.S. military is actually abiding by the agreement, saying, “It is easy to confirm clear violations, but (over the U.S. military bases) it is really difficult for us to tell if the Osprey is flying in helicopter mode or conversion mode.” In that it hinges on the discretion of the U.S. military, it is clear that the agreement reached between the U.S. and Japanese governments is limited in terms of securing the safety of Osprey operations.

At the same time, there are no developments to ease Okinawa’s burden of hosting the U.S. military bases.

In the plenary session of the House of Councilors held on April 6, Prime Minister Abe mentioned the Osprey operations, saying, “The basic premise is give maximum consideration to the lives of local residents.” But at the same time, Onodera explained that there has been no clear development with regard to transferring the Osprey training off Okinawa to other locations in the main islands of Japan. This has been agreed upon between the U.S. and Japanese governments, but Onodera said, “We are asking the U.S. government to quickly decide upon a policy for this, but they have not provided us with a clear schedule.”

The Japanese government will seek to negotiate the transfer of the Osprey training with the U.S. government.

Negotiations with the various local governments that would host the training do not seem to be going smoothly because some of them are concerned about the safety of the Osprey.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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