The sale of five V-22 Osprey aircraft to Japan will substantially bolster U.S.-Japan military-to-military cooperation and improve the island nation’s ability to help counter-balance China’s assertive behavior as tensions rise in the Pacific, Pentagon officials said.
The Japanese Defense Forces’ acquisition of Ospreys also comes as tensions between Japan and neighboring China appear to be worsening.
Not only have the two countries been locked in a territorial dispute over contested islands in the East China Sea, but China recently released a statement criticizing a move by Japanese parliament to pass a bill that would allow Japanese troops to fight abroad for the first time since World War II, according to a news report from Agence France-Presse.
"It is fully justified to ask if Japan is going to give up its exclusively defense-oriented policy", China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement, according to the report.
Japan’s defense-only military policy, woven into its constitution with large U.S. involvement, has been in place since the end of World War II. In recent years, however, the Japanese have been stepping up their international military maneuvers and some in the country are advocating for the country to further develop offensive military capabilities.
"We solemnly urge the Japanese side to... refrain from jeopardizing China’s sovereignty and security interests or crippling regional peace and stability," Hua said in the statement posted on the ministry's website.
Japanese forces invaded China in 1937 just prior to the full outbreak of World War II.
The sale of five Ospreys to Japan will constitute the first international sales of the tilt-rotor aircraft, in service with U.S. Marines and Air Force Special Operations forces since 2007.
With speeds up to 280 knots and a combat radius of 450 miles, the V-22 Osprey changes the equation regarding a force’s ability to maneuver and project power, particular when it comes to amphibious operations, Navy officials have said.,
The Osprey can carry 24 combat-loaded troops in the back and sling-load vehicles and artillery.
U.S. State Department officials, who work closely with their Pentagon counterparts regarding Foreign Military Sales efforts, welcomed the Osprey sales as evidence of a growing U.S.-Japan military partnership.
“This proposed sale of V-22B Block C Osprey aircraft under the Foreign Military Sales program will greatly enhance the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities and support amphibious operations. This sale will promote burden sharing with our ally and interoperability with U.S. forces,” David McKeeby, spokesman for the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, told Military.com.
Several days ago, the Pentagon announced a $332.5 million deal between the U.S. Navy and Bell-Boeing to deliver and support five of the Block C version of the V-22 Ospreys to Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
It was delayed after Japanese officials faced stiff resistance from critics inside Japan cited the Osprey’s poor early safety record.
The deal includes training support and equipment to help the Japanese maximize the value of the tilt-rotor aircraft.
“It is vital to the U.S. national interest to assist Japan in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability. Japan is modernizing its transport fleet to better support its self-defense and special mission needs, and this proposed sale is consistent with U.S. objectives and the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security,” McKeeby added.
The U.S.-Japan deal comes at a time when the U.S. Navy is working to bolster and further fortify its alliances in the Pacific region as part of its rebalance to the area and an effort to counter-balance China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the region.
While state Department officials say Japan’s defense policy is an internal matter for the country to resolve, Mckeeby did point to Japan’s increasing role in global security operations. These include dispatching naval assets to counter piracy, sending reconstruction support forces to Iraq and Kuwait, deploying peacekeepers to South Sudan and Haiti and providing humanitarian assistance to the Philippines.
“We consult regularly with the Japanese government on our respective forces’ roles, missions, and capabilities to ensure that our alliance is always ready to carry out its mission to protect Japan and to maintain peace and stability in the region,” he added.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com