U.S. Military Osprey Flights Resume in Japan; Concerns Raised Over Safety, Transparency (Update 1)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An Osprey takes off from the U.S. Futenma Air Station at 8:53 a.m. Thursday in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

Flights of U.S. military Osprey aircraft, which had been grounded after a fatal crash off Kagoshima Prefecture in November last year, resumed in Japan on Thursday morning.

The first Osprey took off before 9 a.m. at the U.S. military’s Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, where 24 U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys have been deployed. After that, takeoffs and landings of Osprey aircraft continued to be observed. The MV-22 aircraft is a different type of Osprey than the one involved in the crash.

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force is also set to resume flight training in stages with V-22 Ospreys, which has provisionally been deployed at Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture.

On Wednesday, the Japanese Defense Ministry announced safety measures to prevent further incidents, such as changes to maintenance procedures, stating that a parts failure was the cause of the crash. Further details concerning the cause of the crash have not been disclosed to Okinawa Prefecture and other parties, raising fears among those concerned.

“My honest feeling is that it is too early to resume [Osprey] flights,” Masanori Matsugawa, mayor of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, where Futenma Air Station is located, said to reporters. “Couldn’t the aircraft have been flown after having more careful arrangements and review?”

A U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey crashed off Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture on Nov. 29, killing all eight service members on board.

The GSDF intends to proceed with flight training for the 14 tentatively deployed Ospreys at Camp Kisarazu in stages, while carefully implementing safety and maintenance measures.

“GSDF members also have families. The safety [of the aircraft] has been confirmed thoroughly,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

Regarding the resumption of Osprey flights, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said at a press conference on Thursday, “While taking all possible measures to ensure safety, the operations will resume in stages for the defense of the Nansei area and other parts of our country.”

Regarding backlash from relevant municipal governments, Hayashi said, “We want to continue making efforts to give thorough explanations to dispel fears and concerns among local [governments and residents].”