A special operations squadron of CV-22 Ospreys will be stationed at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo beginning in 2017, the Pentagon said Monday in a long-expected announcement.
Three of the Ospreys will arrive in the second half of 2017, with seven more slated to arrive by 2021, a Defense Department news release said.
The Osprey uses tilt-rotor engines to fly like a fixed-wing aircraft or take off and land like a helicopter. Designed to carry special operations troops, Ospreys have been used in Afghanistan and last year were sent to Central Africa to help track rebels with the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The Yokota Ospreys will likewise be used to enhance capability of U.S. Special Operations forces to respond to crises and disasters in Japan and the greater region, the news release said.
The additional aircraft are also intended to promote stronger defense relations with the Japan Self-Defense Forces, which is poised to build its own fleet of Ospreys.
The arrival of Ospreys has been anticipated since 2013, when Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Herbert Carlisle told reporters in Washington, D.C., that the aircraft could be stationed at Yokota or Kadena Air Base on Okinawa beginning in 2015.
“We firmly plan on having CV-22s in the Pacific,” Carlisle said at the time.
A fleet of Ospreys began arriving at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa in 2012, despite vocal opposition by some residents of that island who questioned the aircraft’s safety record. Opposition to Ospreys – and to the U.S. military presence in general – has been more muted on Japan’s mainland.
Two Ospreys stopped at Yokota for the first time in July last year, where they refueled en route to the July 20 Sapporo Air Show. The Ospreys’ participation in the air show was aimed at raising public awareness of the aircraft, which started flying routine training missions over mainland Japan in 2014.
Japan will soon be flying its own fleet of Ospreys. Last week, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of 17 Ospreys to Japan at a cost of $3 billion.
Japan’s defense budget approved earlier this year provides $443.7 million to buy five Ospreys.