Editorial: Government review of Osprey accident is unconvincing

The review of an accident involving the MV22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft is unconvincing. There is speculation that the Japanese confirmation of U.S. findings regarding the U.S. Marine Corps aircraft were weighted toward “deployment” from the very start. The report delivered to Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and other officials by Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, on the Japanese government’s independent analysis of the crash that occurred in the U.S. state of Florida this past June, states: “The accident can primarily be attributed to human error on the part of the pilot and co-pilot.”

The report thus confirms the findings of the probe conducted by the U.S. government, which concluded that the aircraft could not be faulted for this accident, the same conclusion reached after another accident in Morocco in April.

Not a few experts, however, have expressed concern about the safety of the Osprey. That those voices of concern were given much ear during the government’s independent analysis seems doubtful.

Since these crashes, the string of frightening events has continued. Last week, too, an Osprey made an emergency landing in an urban area in the U.S. state of North Carolina. With some saying that the aircraft was emitting black smoke, structural trouble of some kind springs right to mind. The Osprey which landed in North Carolina is the same type of Osprey now temporarily deployed in Iwakuni.

Regarding this incident in North Carolina, Mr. Morimoto explained, “The United States informed us that the Osprey landed to prevent any accidents from occurring after a warning light went on.” The defense minister stressed that “it was not an accident.”

It appears that Mr. Morimoto is taking pains to avoid interfering with U.S. policy, which seeks to deploy the Osprey at the Futenma Air Station in Okinawa in early October. The explanations by the defense minister, which smack of secondhand information from the U.S. side, can be considered symbolic of the ineffectual stance of the Japanese government.

On the other hand, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba noted the issue at a press conference, saying, “The Osprey deployment will not necessarily keep to the schedule that has been decided,” raising the possibility that the operation may be delayed. It is only natural that the government should reexamine the accidents thoroughly, as well as the cause of the recent emergency landing.

During his meeting with Mr. Morimoto, Governor Nakaima stated, “When we hear that the Osprey is crashing without pointing to any particular structural failure, this deepens our fear instead of erasing it.”

Indeed, the fact that human error persists is a source of worry. With such circumstances, it is tough to determine where the preventative measures lie: in addressing the difficulties of piloting the aircraft or in bolstering insufficient technology.

While the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has contended that the deployment of the Osprey will strengthen the deterrence capability of U.S. forces in Japan, the basis for this assertion is not clear. Some argue that the Osprey, which can fly for long distances, would be more strategically suited for deployment in Guam, Saipan, or Hawaii, rather than in Okinawa, since China and North Korea are not far away.

It is true that, in the midst of a worsening standoff over the Senkaku Islands, some have said they welcome the deployment of the Osprey in Okinawa. But whether this is a valid stance must be questioned.

To prevent friction between Japan and its neighbors from growing, it is vital to prioritize our diplomatic efforts and seek to engage in constructive dialogue with these nations.

It is now time to reassess the stance of the Japanese government, which has obediently followed the United States under the Japan-U.S. Security Agreement regime.

Regarding the deployment of the Osprey, the Japanese government has accepted this U.S. policy, too, considering that the issue does not require an advanced consultation under the Japan-U.S. Security Agreement.

On September 9, a prefecture-wide rally of citizens was held in the city of Ginowan in Okinawa Prefecture. As many as 100,000 citizens held their fists in the air and held red signs that said “Osprey NO.”

This protest clearly demonstrates the indignation felt by the people of Okinawa against the Japanese government, which imposes burdens on their lives without listening to their voices. The protest also appears to be an outcry toward those on mainland Japan who show indifference to an order which could constitute discrimination.

The Japanese government must sincerely respond to the firm repudiation from Okinawan citizens and engage in negotiation with the U.S. side to consider canceling the Osprey deployment plan.

(Originally published on September 12, 2012)