Osprey transport aircraft were involved in 58 “mishaps” between 2006 and 2011, U.S. military documents showed, as debate over their deployment to Japan intensified, reaching even the highest levels of the ruling party.
Twelve MV-22 Osprey aircraft are scheduled to arrive at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture on July 23 before their planned deployment to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, in September. The aircraft will enter full operations there in early October.
Japan’s Defense Ministry has never disclosed the total number of incidents involving the U.S. transport aircraft, which has fueled anger over the planned deployment.
Criticism was raised over the safety record of the aircraft and opposition to the deployment spread after it was learned that the Osprey training missions would take them over other parts of Japan. Local leaders are now accusing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of ignoring the pleas of the Japanese public to curry favor with Washington.
"Where on earth is the sovereignty of the people if all the central government does is convey notifications given by the U.S. military?" asked Shinji Hirai, the governor of Tottori Prefecture.
In briefings to Okinawa Prefecture and in brochures for the local population, the Defense Ministry mentioned five major accidents involving MV-22 Osprey aircraft between 1991 and 2007, including those during the development and trial stage before mass production started in 2005. The ministry provided information about the causes of the accidents and subsequent safety measures, including changes to the aircraft body.
But information from the U.S. Marine Corps Safety Division showed that MV-22 aircraft were involved in at least 30 mishaps between October 2006 and September 2011.
The U.S. military classifies aircraft mishaps into three categories. A Class-A mishap involves a fatality, permanent full disability or damages worth $2 million or more. A Class-B mishap involves permanent partial disability or damages of $500,000 or more. A Class-C mishap involves a nonfatal injury or damages worth between $50,000 and $500,000.
The MV-22 aircraft was involved in two Class-A mishaps--an inflight fire and a crew member who fell to the ground; six Class-B mishaps, including engine fires and collapsed nose gears; and 22 Class-C mishaps, including engine failure, engine fires, and an injury to a crew member during a hard landing.
Engine fires and engine failures accounted for seven of all mishaps affecting the MV-22 aircraft, followed by four cases of collapsed nose gears, according to the information.
The Osprey aircraft also comes in the CV-22 specification, used by the U.S. Air Force. Japan’s Defense Ministry has made very little, if any, mention of accidents affecting the CV-22 Osprey aircraft.
Documents from the U.S. Air Force Safety Center showed that CV-22 aircraft were involved in 28 mishaps during the same five-year period, including two Class-A, six Class-B and 20 Class-C incidents.
While detailed breakdowns of the CV-22 mishaps were not available, the two Class-A incidents involved an engine failure and a crash in Afghanistan.
The Futenma air station is located in a heavily populated area, so even falling aircraft parts could lead to serious accidents. Okinawa Prefecture is considering calling on the Defense Ministry to provide information on Class-B and Class-C mishaps, but the reaction from the central government so far has been cool.
"The U.S. military regards Class-A mishaps as the major accidents," a Defense Ministry official said. "There would be no end to the procedure if you began taking up Class-B and Class-C incidents."
On July 19, the National Governors' Association convened in Takamatsu and adopted an emergency resolution calling on the central government to provide information responsibly on the details and impact of the planned deployment and flight drills. It also said Tokyo must respect the sentiment of local governments.
"We cannot accept (the planned deployment of the Osprey aircraft) since safety has yet to be confirmed despite the anxieties of local governments and residents," the resolution said.
Masanao Ozaki, the governor of Kochi Prefecture, said the central government must not forget that “security is there to defend the people," not cause them stress.
Seiji Maehara, policy chief of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, has called for a review of the Osprey deployment plan, indicating that things are moving too quickly.
"If anything were to happen, it would do major harm to the Japan-U.S. alliance as a whole," Maehara told Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto on July 19. "It is essential to pause for a moment."
Earlier on July 11, Maehara asked John Roos, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, to review the deployment program.
According to sources, Maehara feels the government and the ruling party must show that they are on the side of Yamaguchi and Okinawa prefectures.
Maehara's request to Roos was endorsed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, who is quoted as telling Maehara, "Go ahead and take a tough stance."
But Prime Minister Noda effectively negated Maehara’s moves, saying on July 16 that Japan was in no position to ask Washington to review the plan.
Noda’s stance drew an angry reaction from Maehara, a former foreign minister.
"That's just nonsense," Maehara complained to his aides.
(Fumiaki Sonoyama, Nanae Kurashige and Takuya Suzuki contributed to this article.)
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