Two additional U.S. Marine Corps Osprey aircraft landed at Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture on Aug. 3, greeted by protesters denouncing their deployment to a base situated in a crowded residential area.
A male protester in his 50s was arrested on suspicion of obstructing executive officers after he scuffled with police at a base gate, marking the first time an arrest has been made in connection with rallies against the contentious Osprey deployment.
The two tilt-rotor aircraft arrived from U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture around 4:30 p.m. after a two-hour flight, adding to the existing fleet of 12 units. Ten more are expected to be assigned to the base in Ginowan, bringing the total to 24.
Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima expressed regret over the deployment of the Osprey, which has a spotty safety record, during his visit to Yonaguni in the prefecture.
“Okinawan people’s concerns over the deployment weren't allayed at all,” he said on Aug. 3. “We are determined to continue to strongly demand a review of the deployment plan and disperse the deployment.”
The Okinawa prefectural government reported late last year that there were 318 breaches over a two-month period of the bilateral rule that U.S. forces will avoid flying the Osprey in airspace over heavily concentrated residential areas as much as possible.
“Residents are living side by side with the potential danger, including those in heavily concentrated areas,” Nakaima said Aug. 3.
But the Japanese Defense Ministry disputed the prefectural report in July, saying it “has not confirmed any violation.”
The MV-22 Osprey aircraft, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, is replacing the aging CH-46 helicopters deployed at the base.
The Osprey can fly at a top speed of about 520 kilometers an hour and carry 24 troops, twice the capability of the CH-46 in speed and payload.
It can also travel 3,900 km without refueling, more than five times the range of the CH-46.
But the safety of the hybrid aircraft has been called into question, particularly after crashes in Florida and Morocco in 2012.
In June 2011, the U.S. government announced the deployment of the Osprey to the Futenma base. The first 12 aircraft were deployed at the air station last fall after they were first unloaded at the Iwakuni base.
The additional aircraft arrived at the Iwakuni base in late July.
U.S. Forces Japan initially announced that four Ospreys would be deployed to the Futenma base on Aug. 3. But it changed the plan that day, citing insufficient flight conditions.
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