Osprey deployment angers Okinawa citizens, municipalities

September 20, 2012


A U.S. military aircraft with a history of deadly accidents received Japanese government approval to fly on Sept. 19, a decision which provoked a furious reaction in Okinawa.

From October, the MV-22 Osprey will be based at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

The governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima, expressed frustration that he was not consulted before Tokyo gave the tilt-rotor aircraft the green light.

"I do not see any sincerity in the central government’s actions," he said. "Even if they self-righteously say it is safe, in reality it crashed--a fact which even a child would recognize."

In an effort to soften local opposition, a Japan-U.S. joint committee agreed on operational restrictions for the aircraft, including limits on flight routes.

"We plan to have the joint committee monitor compliance with the rules," said Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba.

But opponents in Okinawa called the committee's approval a broken promise.

"Rules are being chipped away in Okinawa," Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga told Hiroshi Takeda, a new Okinawa Defense Bureau chief, on Sept. 19.

"When we visited the central government to protest, we were told 'Japan can say nothing to the United States.' The Japanese government regards Okinawa only as part of its territory," he said.

"Is Okinawa relying on the nation, or is the nation taking advantage of Okinawa?" Onaga asked Takeda. "I want a response from Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto."

On Sept. 9, Okinawans held a mass rally opposing the Osprey's deployment.

Ten days later, the fear of accidents continues to grow.

"This is something that should not happen in a 21st century democracy," said Masaharu Kina, Sept. 19, as he watched news of the government’s Osprey safety clearance.

Kina, the prefectural assembly chairman and one of the representatives at the Sept. 9 citizens' rally, met officials at the central government in Tokyo on Sept. 13 and urged them to reconsider the plan.

"The government does not care about those who appeal," he said on Sept. 19. "This country is broken."

"Citizens' voices are ignored," said Kazuki Kinjo, a 32-year-old "minshuku" inn operator in Ie village who participated in the rally. "I feel sad and helpless when I think that our government can do this."

Also angry was Isamu Gushiken, a farmer from Nago.

"Both the Japanese and U.S. governments make a blind assumption that Osprey is safe," Gushiken, 64, said. "Beyond my anger, it also makes me feel strange. The problem won't be solved until all U.S. military bases were removed?"

Since June 2011, the prefecture has repeatedly demanded that the central government confirm the aircraft's safety, and give residents a convincing explanation.

The prefecture has submitted official questions to Japan's Defense Ministry, asking for information on 105 aspects of the Osprey, including its performance and environmental impact. The ministry answered only 12 questions.

"The government's handling of this is insufficient," said Susumu Matayoshi, head of the Okinawa governor's office. "As long as no explanations are provided, we will keep voicing opposition even after the aircraft's deployment."

Even one expert in the United States questions the Japanese government's safety declaration.

The Japanese government concluded that Osprey crashes in Morocco and Florida earlier this year were "largely caused by human factors and that there were no problems with the safety of the aircraft themselves."

But Arthur Rex Rivolo, who until 2009 was an Osprey analyst at an institute affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense, said both accidents were related to the Osprey's fundamental design. He said such accidents had been predicted.

Rivolo said that in the Osprey, there are errors a pilot can make. He said the biggest problem is that there is no margin for error.

(This article was written by Go Katono and Satoshi Okumura.)

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MV-22 Osprey new transport aircraft stay at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. (The Asahi Shimbun)

MV-22 Osprey new transport aircraft stay at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • MV-22 Osprey new transport aircraft stay at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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