Japanese resistance to the deployment of the MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft spread beyond Okinawa Prefecture after a report revealed that U.S. training flights would also be conducted on Japan’s main islands.
"At a time when doubts are spreading about a possible structural problem with the aircraft, local government leaders in Okinawa and Iwakuni (in Yamaguchi Prefecture) expressed their concerns and said it would be difficult to accept the aircraft at the present time,” Ehime Governor Tokihiro Nakamura said at a June 18 news conference.
“I naturally feel the same way."
The United States plans to station 12 Osprey aircraft at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture. More than 5,000 people protested near the base in Ginowan on June 17, citing the frequent accidents involving the aircraft, which has a tilt-rotor that allows it to fly both like a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft.
Last week, an Osprey crashed during a training flight in Florida, injuring five aboard. In April, two people died when another Osprey crashed during training in Morocco.
Objections to the Osprey deployment are now being heard in other prefectures following the Defense Ministry’s release on June 13 of an environmental assessment report submitted by the U.S. Marine Corps. It showed that the U.S. military is planning low-altitude Osprey training flights on Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.
The report--the first time the U.S. military has admitted it was planning low-altitude training flights in Japan--showed six different flight routes named by different colors.
Three routes are planned for mountainous areas of the Tohoku and Shinetsu regions of Honshu. One planned route extends from Shikoku to the Kii Peninsula of Honshu, while the other two routes are over Kyushu and the Amami islands between Kyushu and Okinawa.
The report states that flight and tactical training exercises involving the Osprey would bring the aircraft as low as about 150 meters above ground.
Over the course of a year, 330 training flights are planned for the six routes, with about one-third of them taking place between late afternoon and night, according to the report.
The Osprey to be based at the Futenma air station would move in squadrons of two to six to Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture and the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture two or three times a month. The training flights at the six different routes would be conducted when the squadrons have moved out of Okinawa, the report said.
Kochi Governor Masanao Ozaki said it was unacceptable to allow training by aircraft whose safety has not yet been secured.
Defense Ministry officials visited the Tokushima prefectural government office on June 18 and tried to explain the plan for the training flights. Instead, prefectural government officials strongly requested that low-altitude training flights not be conducted in the prefecture.
The Osprey’s flight distance is about five times as long as that for the CH-46 transport helicopter now used by the U.S. military, making possible training flights in areas distant from the bases.
The Marines are also planning about 6,700 flights out of Futenma.
An area in the northern part of the main Okinawa island is now being used for helicopter training flights at altitudes of between 15 and 60 meters. The Osprey would also train in that area for about 25 times over a year.
The low-altitude training allows the Osprey to fly under the radar and enter deep into enemy territory. While there are high risks involved in such flights, U.S. military pilots said the training was necessary because simulators could not provide the same experience.
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