The United States had mentioned the danger of MV-22 Osprey military aircraft but deleted reference to the aircraft from a 1996 final report on a bilateral agreement to return the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture to Japan, it has been learned.
A list of potential questions and answers on U.S. bases in Okinawa dated Nov. 27, 1996 -- which U.S. forces compiled and shared with Japan's Defense Agency, the predecessor of the Defense Ministry -- mentions 13 points of contention with Osprey vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. The list is among U.S. documents on which University of the Ryukyus professor Masaaki Gabe of international politics compiled a report as part of the achievements of his research subsidized by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.
U.S. forces had reportedly considered deploying Ospreys to Okinawa Prefecture since the 1990s.
The list of potential questions and answers points out that the structure of Ospreys is more complex than existing helicopters, that the development of Ospreys had been nearly suspended after accidents during test flights were reported. The list contains a potential question as to whether Ospreys are safe compared with existing helicopters, but has no recommended answer to this question.
The minutes of Japan-U.S. consultations on Oct. 22 of the same year show that Tokyo asked Washington for advice on how to explain the length of the runway at a substitute facility for Futenma base to the Okinawa Prefectural Government and local residents.
The minutes cite three potential answers -- not to mention Ospreys at all, to specifically mention the aircraft and to construct a runway for existing aircraft and extend the runway after the U.S. government announced that Ospreys would be deployed to the substitute base.
The list recommends that the Defense Agency clearly explain that the sea-based substitute facility is a heliport to which helicopters deployed to Futenma would be relocated without directly mentioning Ospreys.
The draft of the final report by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) on the return of the Futenma base to Japan, which was drawn up on Nov. 22, 1996, had stated, "The SBF will be designed to support the basing of helicopter and MV-22 (Osprey) units." However, the SACO final report, which was signed on Dec. 2, 1996, says, "The SBF will be designed to support the basing of helicopter assets, and will also be able to support short-field aircraft operations."
At the time, Ospreys were still being developed. A prototype Osprey crashed in June 1991, and another plunged to the ground after its engine caught fire during a final approach in July 1992, killing seven people including Marines.
Moreover, the minutes of the bilateral consultations also show that the United States underscored the need to show political consideration to Okinawa residents over the deployment of Ospreys to a substitute facility for Futenma base. However, the document shows that Japan replied that necessary conditions for U.S. forces' operations should be prioritized.
University of Nagasaki professor Takao Sebata, who is well versed in U.S. political and diplomatic issues, said, "Japan always tries to not make waves in Japan-U.S. relations. It's an 'America First' policy. Japan has surmised U.S. intentions too much and failed to negotiate with the United States on an equal footing," he said.