Tokyo and Washington have decided to assign 12 MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft to a U.S. military facility in Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, in mid-July, sources said, over the objections of local residents.
They plan to deploy the aircraft operationally at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in Okinawa Prefecture, in October following test flights and safety checks.
The governments of Japan and the United States have scrapped an earlier agreement, made after considering opposition from Okinawans, to deploy the aircraft at Air Station Futenma only after stationing them temporarily in Honshu.
However, while U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni was considered a candidate stopover site in Honshu, Sekinari Nii, the governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture, which hosts the Iwakuni air station, objected to the plan.
Already in place is a plan to relocate a carrier air wing from U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture to Air Station Iwakuni by 2014. Tokyo and Washington concluded that an attempt to have the Osprey aircraft assigned to Iwakuni could interfere with the relocation plan from Atsugi.
The Osprey, which lands and takes off like a helicopter but flies like an airplane, will undergo test flights and other procedures at a U.S. military facility in Naha over three months. They will be stationed at Air Station Futenma from October, and their number will eventually be doubled to 24, the sources said.
Washington is likely considering dispatching the first clutch of 12 Osprey aircraft in a disassembled state. That has caused concerns among some Japanese government officials.
"Flights immediately following assembly are prone to glitches," a senior Defense Ministry official said. "It is doubtful whether their safety can be guaranteed."
An Osprey aircraft crashed during a military exercise in Morocco in April, killing two U.S. Marines and severely injuring two others. The Defense Ministry has called on Washington to explain the cause of the accident, but so far to no avail, sources said.
Local communities in Okinawa have consistently opposed the deployment of Osprey aircraft in their prefecture. Tokyo and Washington's push to proceed with the deployment plan is certain to draw further local protests.
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