Japan’s government on Thursday called on the U.S. military to suspend MV-22Bs and CV-22Bs Ospreys in operations Japan, save for search-and-rescue missions, following Wednesday’s crash of an Air Force Special Operations CV-22B in the waters off the island of Yakushima.
Local media outlets reported Thursday that Japan’s Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, while briefing the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of Japan’s Parliament, said he had requested Osprey flights be suspended until the U.S. could confirm that the tiltrotor is safe to fly. During the briefing, the committee also was informed that the U.S. had conducted 14 landings and take-offs by Ospreys at Marine Corps Air Station Funtema following the accident.
Chief Cabinet Hirokazu Matsuno stated in press conferences on Thursday that the Defense Ministry had sent the request to Lt. Gen. Ricky N. Rupp Commander, U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ), and Japan Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa conveyed the request to U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel during a meeting on Thursday. The U.S. has not issued a statement regarding the request. Matsuno also confirmed one of the eight personnel on board was found near the crash site but subsequently pronounced dead.
The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) also grounded its Osprey fleet for the time being, Matsuno said. Japan currently operates 14 Ospreys with three scheduled for delivery to complete an order of 17 aircraft..
According to an Air Force Special Operations Command release issued Wednesday, a 353rd Special Operations Wing CV-22B Osprey with eight airmen on board, from Yokota Air Base, Japan, was involved in a mishap while performing a routine training mission off the shore of Yakushima Island, and search-and-rescue operations are ongoing. No further updates have been issued by the U.S. as of press time. Six CV-22s, including the aircraft that crashed, are stationed at Yokota, and the Marine Corps regularly operates its MV-22Bs around Japan. Also operating around the region is a CMV-22B detachment from Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron (VRM) 30, embarked on carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).
The presence and operations of both U.S. and Japanese Ospreys in Japan has been a source of protests from a number of Japanese politicians and citizens, particularly around Okinawa, over concerns about the aircraft’s safety record. On Thursday, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, who opposes the U.S presence on Okinawa, called for an immediate halt to Osprey flights at Futenma, citing the danger of flights over residential areas.
Three Marines were killed in a MV-22B crash in Australia in August, and, in February, the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force grounded some of their Osprey fleets because of ongoing issues with the tilt-rotor aircraft’s hard clutch. The last U.S military aircraft accident involving fatalities in Japan was in 2018, when an F/A-18D Hornet aircraft from Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 and a KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 collided off the coast of Japan during a nighttime refueling, killing all five Marines on the KC-130J and the Hornet pilot. The weapon systems officer on the jet survived.
The Japan Coast Guard and all three JSDF services are conducting search-and-rescue (SAR) operations. According to the Joint Staff Office (JSO), eight ships, 10 fixed-wing aircraft and nine helicopters were carrying out SAR efforts at sea, while a hundred personnel of the 12th Infantry Regiment are searching along Yakushima’s coastline. The eight Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships are destroyer escort JS Tone (DE-234), frigates JS Noshiro (FFM-3) and JS Mikuma (FFM-4), mine countermeasures vessel JS Uraga (MST-463), minesweepers JS Takashima (MSC-603), JS Toyoshima (MSC-685) and JS Miyajima (MSC-690) and fast-attack craft JS Shirataka (PG-829). Fixed-wing aircraft comprise of one JGSDF LR-1 reconnaissance aircraft, two JMSDF P-1 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), five Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) U-125 SAR aircraft and one JASDF E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. Helicopters consist of seven JGSDF UH-60 Blackhawks and two JMSDF SH-60 Seahawks.
In other developments, Defense Minister Kihara on Tuesday provided a brief summary of his country’s involvement in the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87)’s rescue of tanker M/V Central Park on Sunday. Destroyer JS Akebono (DD-108) and a JMSDF P-3C Orion MPA, which were deployed on Japan’s ongoing counterpiracy mission in the region, rushed to the scene and provided information and intelligence to Combined Task Force 151, Kihara said. On the day before the attempted hijacking, Akebono and Mason had been conducting drills together; a JMSDF release showed the two ships conducting a passage exercise.
Since 2009, Japan has been despatching a rotational deployment of a single JMSDF destroyer and two JMSDF P-3C MPAs to the Gulf of Adenon counterpiracy missions, with a detachment of JMSDF ground crew and JGSDF support personnel stationed at Djibouti, where the P-3Cs operate from. The Japanese government on Nov .7 renewed the annual mission but reduced the P-3Cs to a single plane because improved support facilities at Djibouti have increased aircraft availability.