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Ospreys at Futenma coming next year

Date Posted: 2011-06-02

It’s not officially official yet, but already grumbling and anger is on the streets of Okinawa at word the U.S. Marine Corps will deploy its MV-22 Osprey to Futenma starting in September 2012.

Sources close to the bilateral relations say the Marines’ version of the Osprey, know for its vertical take off and landing capabilities, will replace the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters currently at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan, in central Okinawa. An official announcement of the deployment is expected by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will advise Japan’s Defense Minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, during upcoming talks in Singapore.

Okinawans are already opposing the transport plane’s deployment to the island, citing the Osprey’s checkered past that includes accidents and incidents. Residents say they’re afraid to have the MV-22 in the middle of densely populated Ginowan City. Sources say the U.S. is already planning a campaign to give Japanese Self Defense Forces rides in the Osprey to prove its safety.

Kitazawa and the Japanese government are reported to already know about the transfer of MV-22 Ospreys to Okinawa, but sources say there’s little Japan can do to block the deployment. The Osprey was included in 1996 plans for relocating Futenma to northern Okinawa, but references to the controversial aircraft were dropped from the final version of the report to avoid protests. The Marine Corps intends on stationing the Ospreys at Futenma to replace 24 aging CH-46 heavy lift transport helicopters.

The Marine Corps announced last year its plans to station Ospreys at Futenma, with one element coming in September 2012, and second staging in October 2013. Futenma, already unpopular with Okinawans—and Ginowan residents in particular—because if its location surrounded by tens of thousands of citizens, was supposed to move to northern Okinawa by 2014, but the deadline was scrubbed a week ago. The Japanese government says, however, plans to build the Futenma replacement facility will go forward, although just not as quickly as originally envisioned.

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