feels heat over Osprey
deployment By Kosuke
TOKYO - The US Marine Corps
(USMC) this week deployed 12 Bell-Boeing MV-22
Osprey aircraft to its Iwakuni Air Station in
Yamaguchi prefecture of western Japan, despite
concerns over the tilt-rotor aircraft's safety
record heightened by two recent crashes.
More than 500 citizens on Monday staged
rallies around the air base over the arrival of
the Ospreys, with dozens of local people taking to
fishing boat and dinghies to demonstrate in its
harbor. Washington plans to deploy the MV-22s to
Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan,
Okinawa, in September.
In an attempt to ease
local hostility, the US and the Japanese
governments have agreed to refrain from
test-flying the aircraft until the results of a US
probe into its two recent crashes - one in Morocco
in April and another in Florida in mid-June - are
governments are sticking to a plan to start
full-scale operations of the Osprey at the
Marines' Futenma Air Station on Okinawa in October
after maintenance and trial flights at Iwakuni.
However, tensions over the Osprey will
likely escalate further in coming weeks, local
activists hoping to attract hundreds of thousands
to the island's largest-ever protest rally on
Critics argue that Tokyo has
failed to stand up to the US on the issue.
"The deployment itself is a basic policy
of the US government," Prime Minister Yoshihiko
Noda said flatly on a Fuji Television program on
July 16. "Although Japan is an ally of the US,
basically this isn't a matter where we tell the US
government what to do."
Accused by an
opposition lawmaker of subservience to the US over
the Osprey deployment on July 24, Noda apologized
for having given insufficient explanations as to
his reasons for this.
security treaty According to Noda, in 1960
when the Japan-US Security Treaty was revised,
then prime minister Nobusuke Kishi and US
secretary of state Christian Herter conducted an
exchange of notes on the implementation of Article
6, agreeing that the US would consult with the
Japanese government in advance regarding important
changes in US military equipment in Japan.
Noda said the matter of the Osprey is not
subject to prior consultations under the bilateral
security treaty as "important changes in US
military equipment in Japan" only cover "nuclear
weapons, ballistic missiles and the like".
Noda also said the Japan-US Status of
Forces Agreement (SOFA), which has governed the
management and operations of the US military in
Japan since 1960, stipulates that US warplanes,
such as the Osprey, are allowed to fly not only
above US facilities and land areas in Japan but
also above any area other than those.
Asia Times Online reported in June, the United
States Marine Corps (USMC) plans to conduct MV-22
Osprey's low-altitude flight training in Japan via
six different flight routes above the Japanese
archipelago. (See US
Marines eye Japan as a training yard, Asia
Times Online, June 23, 2012)
Chugoku areas such as Iwakuni City have pointed
out there is a seventh route, a so-called brown
route, which the USMC currently uses in Japan.
Furthermore, the report, "Final Environmental
Review for Basing MV-22 at MCAS Futenma and
Operating in Japan" (April 2012), lists plans to
conduct low-level flight training down to 50 feet,
or 15.24 meters above ground level.
USMC plans to continue using the brown route for
Osprey's flight training, critics have asked why
it didn't mentioned this in its report on the
Critics have demand Tokyo ask
Washington to review the deployment of the Osprey,
despite Noda's inflexible approach.
is still room for negotiation," Ukeru Magosaki,
the former chief of the Japanese Foreign
Ministry's international intelligence bureau, told
Asia Times Online. "The US and Japan have agreed
to reduce burdens on Okinawa residents. Deploying
the Osprey to Futenma increases danger. This
clearly runs counter to the US-Japan agreements."
The already-controversial Futenma Air
Station is located in a densely populated area of
the city of Ginowan, which is surrounded by more
than 100 schools, hospitals and shops. In November
2003, when then US Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld visited Okinawa and looked over Futenma
from the air, he said he could not believe there
were not more accidents in such a place. He called
it "the world's most dangerous base".
April 1996, Japan and the US agreed to relocate
the Futenma Air Station. But the local government
has demanded the closure of the Futenma site while
rejecting a prolonged plan to construct a
sea-based replacement facility off Camp Schwab in
the north of the island.
In August 2004, a
US Marines CH-53 military helicopter crashed into
a university building in the city, causing no
serious damage or injuries but causing a major
international incident. (Thanks to summer
vacation, most students were off-campus.)
In 1959, a US fighter jet also crashed
into an elementary school in central Okinawa,
leaving 17 people dead, including 11 children.
Okinawans remember these accidents vividly.
'Know nothing' stance Okinawans
have accused the the Okinawa Defense
Bureau of ignoring the issue despite the
deployment of the Osprey to Futenma being
announced in the US Navy's 1992 document "Master
Plan for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma" and in
the 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa
Although the US repeatedly
stresses "the MV-22 is a highly capable aircraft
with an excellent safety record," the majority of
Japanese are even less likely to accept such
pledges following the attempted cover-up of
failures that contributed to the nuclear meltdown
at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
following an earthquake there last March.
Noda seems to be increasingly concerned
over the deployment of the Osprey, which could
deal a fatal blow to his embattled administration.
His cabinet's public approval rating fell to
20-30%, according to recent polls conducted by the
is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. Besides
Asia Times Online, he also writes for Jane's
Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. His
twitter is @TakahashiKosuke
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