U.S. tells Tokyo it may resume Okinawa Osprey aerial refueling drills next month
The U.S. forces in Japan have notified the Japanese government of its plan to resume aerial refueling training for U.S. Marine Corps Osprey aircraft possibly early next month, following the ditching of an Osprey off Okinawa earlier this month, a government source said Thursday.
The government is in talks with the United States on how to restart the exercise, which is expected to spark anger from local residents due to the ditching during one such drill involving U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft on the evening of Dec. 13, the sources said.
The aircraft broke apart upon impact with the sea and two of the five crew members were injured. The U.S. military blamed the incident on an oil duct problem during mid-air refueling.
The U.S. military said it will resume the drills in stages after taking certain steps, such as retraining the pilots and simulating on-ground training, according to the source.
The government has been calling on the U.S. side to provide information on how to prevent such accidents.
The Osprey belonging to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in central Okinawa Island ditched in shallow waters off the eastern coast of the island. The accident area was near the Henoko district in Nago in northern Okinawa, where construction of a replacement facility for the Futenma base recently restarted despite strong local opposition.
Opposition to the Osprey deployment has been strong in Okinawa, given a slew of fatal accidents involving the aircraft that have occurred overseas, including during its development phase.
Residents in Okinawa, where there is lingering resentment over bearing the heavy burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, were outraged over the latest incident.
The entire fleet of MV-22 aircraft in Okinawa was temporarily grounded after the accident, but on Dec. 19 the U.S. military resumed use of its Osprey planes.