The U.S. said it will go ahead with the deployment of 12 MV-22 Osprey aircraft to American bases in Japan in the face of protests sparked by recent crashes.
The Ospreys, which can fly like an airplane or like a helicopter, will be sent to the Marine air base in Iwakuni next month, the Pentagon said in a statement today. Japan asked the U.S. for information about a June crash of the aircraft in Florida that injured five as well as a fatal crash in Morocco in April, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said last week.
About 5,000 opponents of the deployment rallied in Okinawa on June 17 and local assemblies in Iwakuni and the Okinawan city of Ginowan have both passed resolutions against the deployment this month.
The U.S. military “will refrain from any flight operations of the MV-22 in Japan until the results of the investigations are presented to the Japanese government and the safety of flight operations is confirmed,” according to the Pentagon statement. The aircraft will then be moved to Okinawa, site of 75 percent of the American bases in Japan. Another 12 Ospreys are due to be sent to Okinawa next year.
Tensions from the U.S. military presence in Okinawa have risen over an agreement to relocate a base from one part of the island to another over objections from residents who complain about noise, crime and pollution. The two countries reached a deal in April to relocate about 9,000 Marines from Okinawa.
Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, a former university professor known for his support of the U.S. alliance, said today he would visit Iwakuni and Okinawa this weekend to explain to local officials the deployment plan and provide information the government has so far received about the two crashes.
“I want to listen to local people’s opinions in a very open way,” Morimoto told reporters in Tokyo. “If you ask me how sure I am that I can talk them around, my honest answer is that I’m not confident.”
The Okinawa branch of the ruling Democratic Party earlier this month called on Morimoto to resign after he said the Osprey deployment could take place before Japan receives a U.S. report on the Morocco crash. The mayor of the Okinawan capital of Naha announced this week he is planning a larger rally.