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U.S. told to hold off on Osprey test flights

Date Posted: 2012-07-27

Japan’s Prime Minister is promising the Diet that he’ll not permit any flights of the new U.S. military MV-22 Osprey aircraft now on Japanese soil.

Yoshiko Noda says he’ll prohibit any flights of the tilt-rotor aircraft until the safety of the plane is validated. The Osprey has been involved in two crashes in April and June, and Noda wants answers as to “why” before he allows the planes to fly over his country.

The first dozen Ospreys that ultimately will be based in Okinawa arrived Monday at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture aboard the MV Green Ridge, which carried the controversial aircraft from San Diego. Protesters met the ship in a dozen small boats, shouting “we don’t want the dangerous Osprey!” and “Osprey, go back to America.” Demonstrations continued as the planes were unloaded.

The Osprey, with rotors that permit vertical take off and landing operations, while engines adjust to permit forward flight, is to be stationed at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa after testing at Iwakuni. The planes, which will replace 24 aging CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters now at Futenma, have Okinawans furious. Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, continues to argue against the Osprey coming to his prefecture, and Noda’s own administration is fractured over the situation.

Although Noda’s conceded the Status of Forces Agreement leaves Japan powerless to block the deployment, Seiji Maehara, the Democratic Party of Japan’s policy leader, is criticizing the Prime Minister. Maehara, who’s normally a strong American alliance supporter, says “If the Osprey is brought to Iwakuni and deployed in Okinawa as scheduled, it will harm the Japan-U.S. alliance. He’s backed by 35 DPJ members, who want everything put on hold. The 41 municipalities of Okinawa are formally on record, too, objecting to the deployment. At Iwakuni, the Yamaguchi Prefectural Assembly also is against the tilt-rotor hybrid aircraft.
Japan’s Foreign Minister, Koichiro Genba, says there will be a meeting today in Tokyo to discuss the plane’s safety record. For the moment, the U.S. has agreed not to allow any of the 12 Osprey aircraft to fly in Japan until the aircraft’s safety is confirmed by investigation results. “I.have repeatedly stated Osprey flights should not be allowed in Japan before the aircraft’s safety is confirmed,” Genba said.
Susumu Matayoshi of the Okinawa Governor’s office is cautioning that if the plane is deployed by force, relocation of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan could be deeply affected. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura continues to reiterate the objective “we will make utmost efforts in obtaining understanding” from local residents on the Osprey deployment, by providing information on the latest accidents.

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