Editorial: U.S. Air Force Osprey

Greater burden on Okinawa unacceptable

Not just the residents of Okinawa but all of us must feel a sense of danger as the United States seemingly accelerates the strengthening of the functions of its military bases in Okinawa.

At a press conference, Michael Donley, secretary of the Air Force, mentioned the possibility of deploying the CV-22 Osprey transport, which is designed for use by the Air Force, in Okinawa.

Because a U.S. Air Force special operations group is stationed there, it is believed that Kadena Air Base is an option for deployment of the Osprey.

Twelve MV-22 Ospreys, which are designed for use by the U.S. Marine Corps, were just deployed at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma last year against the opposition of the people of Okinawa. And the complement is scheduled to be increased to 24 this summer.

With China in mind, the Obama administration has said its national defense strategy will focus on the Asia-Pacific region. It seems the U.S. intends to make Okinawa the base for its Ospreys in the region.

But this will expose the people of Okinawa to more danger. Instead of just going along with whatever the U.S. says, the Japanese government should take a tough stance and ask the U.S. to reconsider.

There are even greater concerns about the safety of the CV-22, because, while the basic structures of the two aircraft are nearly the same, the CV-22 has a much higher rate of accidents than the MV-22.

Not a few experts believe that there are differences in the ways the two aircraft are being used. Unlike the MV-22, which is used to transport personnel and materiel, the CV-22 is flown by the Air Force’s special operations group. It is apparently assumed that it will be used under harsh conditions, under the premise that it will penetrate enemy territory.

If the CV-22 is deployed in Okinawa, like the MV-22 it will likely be sent to bases around Japan for training, and it may be flown at lower altitudes.

The stance of the U.S. military has also been called into question. The agreement between Japan and the U.S. that was reached at the time of the deployment of the MV-22 is not being honored.

In October and November of last year Okinawa Prefecture conducted a visual survey on Osprey flights in cooperation with local municipalities. They found that there had been 318 violations of the agreement in which Ospreys flew over schools, hospitals and heavily populated areas. This represents 60 percent of the total number of flights they observed.

At the end of last year, Hirokazu Nakaima, governor of Okinawa Prefecture, asked the central government to assume responsibility for conducting a survey and verifying the flights of the Osprey. “The concerns of the people of Okinawa have not been allayed at all,” the governor said.

This represents his distrust of both governments and the U.S. military. With violations of the rules being overlooked, it’s inevitable that people doubt that the deployments had been agreed on by Japan and the U.S.

With regard to the Air Force secretary’s comments on the deployment of the CV-22, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, said, “If you consider the feelings of the people of Okinawa, the mere fact that this subject came up is absurd.” He must clearly state Japan’s objections to the U.S. in this same direct way.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) harshly criticized the Democratic Party administration for dragging its feet on the issue of the relocation of the base in Futenma. But now that the LDP has regained control of the government, no clear message to Okinawa has been heard.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will travel to the U.S. in February. In order to mend relations with the U.S., he presumably wants to agree with President Obama on a shared stance toward China.

But first he must outline specific measures for reducing the burden on the people of Okinawa. What with the relocation of the Futenma base within the prefecture and the approval of the gradual Osprey build-up, the people of Okinawa are a long way from trusting the government.

Toeing the U.S. line excessively may lead to the “end of thinking” in Japan’s diplomacy. The government must not forget that a relationship of equals in which both parties say what needs to be said is the foundation of a solid alliance.

(Originally published on January 15, 2013)