The United States on Friday officially notified Japan of its plan to deploy the Osprey multi-purpose aircraft in Okinawa prefecture, despite protests by local residents over its safety.
The Defense Department said in a statement that the MV22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft would replace aging helicopters at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma air station in Okinawa, southern Japan.
The Department said the Marines would send the Osprey to a base in Yamaguchi prefecture next month before deploying it in Okinawa, but they will refrain from test flying the aircraft in Japan in response to safety concerns there, Japan's NHK broadcaster reported.
The test flight freeze is to continue until the U.S. presents detailed results of its probe into an Osprey crash in Morocco in April last in which two crew-members were killed. Another Osprey had crashed in the U.S. state of Florida this month.
The United States turned down its close ally Japan's request to delay notification of deployment, saying that the Morocco crash was caused by human error and not due to mechanical problems.
Japan's Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said the freeze was a compromise the two sides could agree on. He said he would visit Okinawa and Yamaguchi over the weekend, but the information provided by the U.S. on the crashes was not enough to convince local leaders of the Osprey's safety.
Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima reiterated his opposition to the deployment of Osprey in his prefecture. The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly had also passed a resolution urging the U.S. to drop the plan to deploy the aircraft in the prefecture.
Nakaima said he could not give consent before the aircraft's safety was confirmed, and that a plan to deploy "dangerous aircraft that have often crashed is out of question regardless of any alliance or mutual treaty," the report quoted him as saying.
by RTT Staff Writer
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