Osprey aircraft to take part in Japan-U.S. drills in Hokkaido

Osprey USS Makin Island South China Sea

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Leo Gonzales signals for an MV-22B Osprey to take off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Devin Langer/U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Marine Corps will likely fly Osprey aircraft in joint drills with the Ground Self-Defense Force in Hokkaido despite the Japanese government’s call for a halt following a fatal crash off Australia last week, a Defense Ministry source said Thursday.

The source said none of the aircraft deployed at the Futenma air base in Okinawa will fly on the first day of drills on Thursday but arrangements are being made for their participation in the exercises running through Aug. 28.

All six of the Futenma-based MV-22 Ospreys had originally been scheduled to participate in the drills, before the crash of one of them off the eastern coast of Australia on Saturday that left three U.S. Marines dead.

The crash rekindled concern about the safety of the tilt-rotor aircraft among local residents and officials not only Okinawa but Hokkaido.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Marine Corps said in a statement that it had determined that Ospreys are “safe to fly,” resuming operations after a 48-hour pause.

Commenting on the statement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday it showed the U.S. forces’ “determination to ensure” the safety of the aircraft.

Suga added the Defense Ministry is “in negotiations with the U.S. side” regarding the joint drills.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a parliamentary committee earlier in the day that his ministry would “continue discussing” with U.S. officials how Ospreys would participate in the drills in Hokkaido.

Municipal governments in Hokkaido hosting the military drills, which are being held at two locations, have demanded that Ospreys be totally excluded from the exercises.

In the northern prefecture of Aomori near Hokkaido, about 50 people staged a protest against the participation of the aircraft near the U.S. military base in Misawa, where Ospreys are scheduled to be based during the drills.

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