The Marine Corps confirmed this week that it plans to replace the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters at its base in Okinawa, Japan with its MV-22 Osprey, reports Stars & Stripes, and Japanese officials are very uneasy about that. Never mind the Osprey's comparatively good operational safety record, never mind its more than 100,000 flight hours, never mind that it has deployed many times to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere.
No, write reporters Travis Tritten and Chiyomi Sumida. As with everywhere else it's operated, the Osprey will arrive in Okinawa in 2013 wearing a crosshairs, one that'll only be compounded by Japan's intricate basing politics:
[T]he Okinawa government has staunchly opposed locating the new aircraft at Futenma, calling them too “dangerous” for a military base located in a densely populated area. In 2004, a Marine Corps Sea Stallion helicopter based at the air station crashed on the neighboring campus of a Japanese university. The event continues to invoke animosity toward the large U.S. military presence on the island.Should the Marines persist with their plans to deploy the Osprey in Japan?
“At Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, 24 CH-46 [Sea Knight] helicopters will be replaced by 24 MV-22 [Osprey] tilt-rotor aircraft,” according to a Marine Corps written response to a Stars and Stripes inquiry. “Although we anticipate that the MV-22 will be deployed to Okinawa starting in fiscal year 2013, no final decisions have been made regarding the timing of their arrival.”
The Futenma air station is scheduled to be relocated to an area farther north near the city of Nago following an agreement between the U.S. and Japanese governments, meaning the Ospreys could quickly be moved from the urban area around Futenma to an area less populated.
But the relocation plans have been under intense pressure for years due to opposition from Okinawans who want the base moved off the island. The island makes up a powerful lobby in Japan that has bedeviled the Tokyo government and caused the resignation of the former prime minister because he could not make good on promises involving Futenma.
Ginowan, where the air station is located, came out strongly against the Osprey plans Thursday. “If the plan is pursued, Ginowan City and its residents will take every action necessary to stop it,” said Shigeo Yamauchi, chief of the city’s military affairs office.