Government asks Saga to tentatively host U.S. MV-22 Osprey

July 23, 2014 Ryukyu Shimpo

At a press conference on July 22, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera suggested there is a possibility that the U.S. Marines at Futenma Air Station will tentatively use Saga Airport in Saga prefecture to station aircraft. Itsunori said, “This is on the premise that the operation of Futenma base will not stop within five years.” Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has previously asked the government to stop the operation of Futenma base within five years.

On the morning of the same day, at Saga Prefectural Government Office, Parliamentary Senior Vice Defense Minister Ryota Takeda met with Governor Yasushi Furukawa to convey the possibility that U.S. Marine’s Osprey aircraft will be tentatively stationed at Saga Airport. The vice minister sought the governor’s approval.

Defense Minister Onodera explained to reporters that the use of Saga Airport by the U.S. Marines instead of Futenma is conditional on there being progress on construction of the Henoko replacement facility. However, the defense minister avoided answering questions regarding whether or not there is a possibility that other aircraft besides the Osprey will be based Saga Airport.

Onodera said, referring to the use of Saga Airport by the U.S. Marines said, “We need to consult with the Saga prefectural government and the U.S. military side.” He did not comment further on this issue. The Okinawa Prefectural Government has requested the central government move the U.S. Marine Osprey training outside of Okinawa. Onodera has since suggested that Saga Airport could be one of the training bases for U.S. Marine Osprey aircraft. In reply to a suggestion from reporters that the relocation site for the Futenma base does not have to be Henoko, the defense minister answered, “The Futenma base must not remain at the current place. It is assumed that we will relocate the Futenma base to Camp Schwab. My request to move the aircraft to Saga Airport is a temporary measure.”

Vice minister Takeda, at meetings with Governor Furukawa, requested permission to deploy to Saga Airport 17 Osprey aircraft, which are to be introduced into the Ground Self-Defense Force. The governor claimed the move was necessary to ensure safety. They agreed to continue consulting on this proposal.

In a press conference after his meeting with the governor, Takeda announced that the Ground Self-Defense Force will deploy its Osprey aircraft to Saga Airport from fiscal 2019, as the Self-Defense Forces are scheduled to introduce the tilt-rotor aircraft. The Defense Ministry plans to make a budgetary request for fiscal 2015 to acquire land adjacent to the airport so that new facilities can be built. In a meeting with the vice defense minister, the governor pointed out, “It is the government’s responsibility to explain to citizens why Saga Airport was chosen, or whether the Osprey is really a safety aircraft. It is necessary to gain an understanding from citizens. At the same time, the government must ensure the safety of people around Saga Airport.” He added, “I have not decided whether I am for or against the proposal. I have to assess it in detail. We will continue to exchange views with the Ministry of Defense.”

In a meeting with the governor, Takeda explained the plan to move about 50 helicopters from the GSDF Camp Metabaru in Yoshinogari in the same prefecture to Saga Airport. He also met with Saga mayor Toshiyuki Hideshima and the chairman of the Saga Prefectural Assembly Hobun Kihara.

(English translation by T&CT)

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