U.S. Air Force mulls deploying CV-22 Osprey in Okinawa

U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley has now admitted that the Air Force is considering deploying its CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft in Okinawa, a move certain to fuel local opposition.

Asked at a press conference whether the Air Force is considering CV-22 Osprey deployment in the southernmost Japan prefecture or other parts of the country, Donley said yes although he declined to comment on details.  Informed sources said that the United States is expected to deploy about 10 CV-22 Ospreys at the Air Force’s Kadena Air Base Okinawa over several years.

Meanwhile, the Air Force and the Defense Department issued separate statements to water down Donley’s remark. The statements said that no decisions have been made although several candidate sites are being studied for CV-22 Osprey deployment in the Asia-Pacific region in several years. The Japanese and U.S. governments have never held official talks on possible CV-22 Osprey deployment in Japan. The CV-22 Osprey, which is used mainly for special military operations, has a higher rate of accidents compared with the U.S. Marine Corps’ MV-22 Osprey.

At a stateside meeting with Susumu Matayoshi, visiting head of the office of Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, Christopher Johnstone, director for Northeast Asia at the U.S. Department of Defense, said that the United States is considering deploying the CV-22 Osprey in Japan or other parts of Asia while noting that a decision has yet to be made.   Matayoshi wasted no time in saying that Okinawa can never accept any CV-22 Osprey deployment.

Last October, 12 MV-22 Ospreys arrived at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in the first Osprey deployment in Japan. Another 12 MV-22 planes are set to be deployed at the same base by summer this year.  As safety concerns about the Ospreys remain strong in Okinawa, the plan to deploy the CV-22 Ospreys would be certain to anger Okinawa residents further.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has sounded negative about any early deployment of the CV-22 Osprey in Japan.  The CV-22 Osprey is used by special Air Force units. A CV-22 Osprey crashed during training in Florida in June 2012, but the Defense Department concluded after its investigation that the accident was caused an error by a crew member and that there is no flaw in the aircraft.

At Kadena, the only Air Force base in Okinawa, about 10 MC-130 special mission aircraft are deployed for use to transport special units of the U.S. Army stationed nearby and for other purposes.