Osaka mayor offers airport for Marines' Osprey training
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Japanese government said this week it will study whether Marine Corps Osprey aircraft can train in Osaka after the city’s controversial mayor offered up a local airport for exercises.
Mayor Toru Hashimoto and the governor of Osaka prefecture suggested the training as a way to reduce U.S. tilt-rotor aircraft operations on Okinawa, where the deployment of Ospreys last fall has caused outcry from residents weary of the island’s large military presence.
Hashimoto was roundly criticized and pressured to apologize last month for urging U.S. troops to utilize Japan’s legalized sex industry, but Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday the Abe administration is taking the Osprey offer seriously.
Suga said Tokyo is already studying Osprey operations on the mainland and will work with the U.S. military to determine if training could be possible on the outskirts of one of Japan’s largest cities.
“It is the responsibility of the entire nation [of Japan] and the government as well to reduce the burden on Okinawa,” Suga told a news conference. “We together with the [United States] military will study the feasibility of the location.”
The cabinet secretary and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had met Thursday with Hashimoto and discussed the public Yao Airport just outside Osaka city limits as a location for U.S. exercises, according to the Kyodo News service.
The Marine Corps on Okinawa said Friday it remains neutral on the Osaka proposal. Marine spokesman 2nd Lt. Taylor Clark said the local command has not yet been asked to look into training with the newly deployed hybrid aircraft at Yao.
A squadron of the Ospreys, which can fly like a helicopter or rotor airplane, deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa last fall. A second squadron is slated to arrive at the air station this year, though no arrival date has been confirmed by the two governments.
The aircraft is a key upgrade to the Marine Corps fleet because it can carry more payload and fly farther than its helicopter predecessors. The United States plans to operate the aircraft throughout Okinawa and fly often to U.S. bases on the Japanese mainland. The Ospreys also already participate in a variety of multinational exercises in the Asia-Pacific region.
But the new hybrid and its unique design sparked safety fears and protests on Okinawa. Tokyo declined to stop the deployment last year despite widespread opposition on the island and the Ospreys have now become a symbol of the protest movement against the U.S. military presence.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.