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Saturday, June 30, 2012
Osprey to be deployed but not flown until probes end: U.S.
By AYAKO MIE
Amid the growing uproar over plans to deploy the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport plane in Okinawa, the United States on Friday told Japan the aircraft will be delivered to the Futenma base but will be grounded until their safety is confirmed by reports into two recent accidents.
Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto is to meet Mayor Atsushi Sakima of Ginowan, which hosts the air station, and Okinawa Gov. Horikazu Nakaima and Yamaguchi Gov. Sekinari Nii over the weekend to get their feedback on the plane.
"I am not confident that I can persuade the people in the host towns with all the information I have," Morimoto said Friday.
Earlier this week, he said he wasn't ready to go to the host towns because he hadn't received enough information from the U.S. on the accidents.
According to a press release and Host Nation Notification issued by the U.S. Department of Defense, a total of 12 of the helicopter-airplane hybrids will arrive at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture at the end of July.
The MV-22, which can take off like a helicopter and fly like a plane, will replace the Marine Corps fleet of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, which are to be retired in 2014. The MV-22 can fly twice as fast as the Sea Knight.
The U.S. aims to complete the Osprey transition in early October.
The recent crash in Florida of a CV-22, the Air Force version of the Osprey, has fueled opposition against the Okinawa plan because it occurred less than three months after the fatal crash of an MV-22 in Morocco.
The U.S., fully aware of the concern, said in the press release that it will "refrain from any flight operations of the MV-22 in Japan until the results of the investigation on the two recent accidents are presented to Japan and the safety of the operation is reassured," adding this will make Japan the only location in the world where the U.S. will be suspending MV-22 operations.
"Japan and the U.S. had diverse and numerous discussions (on the deployment,), but this was the best compromise both parties could strike," Morimoto said. He did not specify if the proposal came from the U.S. or Japan, but noted the checks are being conducted by the U.S. side, and Japan can only reaffirm the plane's safety based on the U.S. report.
It is also unclear when the 12 Ospreys will arrive at Futenma as the timing of the final report hinges on the U.S., Morimoto said, indicating deployment could happen earlier or later than the originally slated end of August.
Since the crashes, the U.S. has stepped up efforts to reaffirm the Osprey's safety by saying there is no mechanical or design error in the troubled plane.
The Defense Ministry on Tuesday released an interim report from the U.S. on the two accidents, which Morimoto said was a very unusual move, even for an ally.
The report said the two accidents occurred when the planes were shifting from helicopter mode to aircraft mode, indicating the cause has something to do with the main feature of the Osprey.
It also said the MV-22 in Morocco crashed at low altitude while in a forward-tilting position with a tailwind, which the ministry said was an "unusual operation" that might have caused the crash. The ministry officials say the findings so far indicate the accidents were not caused by malfunctions but by operational errors.