NAHA, Japan — The accident-prone U.S. aircraft Osprey is still crucial for national security and should be allowed to fly in the country, the Japanese defense minister said in a meeting with the Okinawa governor Monday.
At the meeting, Gov. Takeshi Onaga asked the government to halt Osprey flights in the prefecture until the cause of a recent crash off Australia is determined. The accident has left three marines missing.
“I cannot help but feel frustrated, since more flights were conducted the day after the [Japanese] government requested that they refrain from doing so,” Onaga said at the start of the meeting.
The helicopter-airplane hybrid is “very important to our country’s security,” Itsunori Onodera told Onaga in response. The defense chief, visiting the prefecture for the first time since his appointment, also said he had relayed widespread concerns regarding the Osprey to parties including Maj. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, deputy commander of American forces in Japan. “We are calling on the U.S. military to take safety into maximum consideration,” Onodera said.
Japan and the U.S. will open Thursday their “two-plus-two” security talks in Washington between top defense and foreign affairs officials. There, Tokyo will also bring up the issue of parachuting and other drills in Okinawa that have drawn intense local opposition.
On the controversial relocation of Futenma air base to Henoko in the city of Nago, “the prefecture and government share the understanding that the danger posed by the Futenma base should be removed as soon as possible,” Onodera said, referring to the current location in a crowded residential area.
“We want to steadily move ahead with the current plan,” he said.
Onaga handed Onodera a petition requesting that the move to Henoko be abandoned.