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Saga Pref. OKs Osprey deployment, gov't to pay 10 bil. yen

Saga Deputy Gov. Hideo Ikeda, left, leaves a Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force camp in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, on Dec. 13, 2017, after taking a flight on a U.S. military Osprey transport aircraft. (Kyodo)

SAGA, Japan (Kyodo) -- The governor of Saga Prefecture in southwestern Japan gave the green light on Friday to the deployment of Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft in the prefecture, following an accord in which the government will pay 10 billion yen ($90 million) for it over 20 years.

Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi said he clinched an agreement with visiting Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to pay the sum as landing fees, and use part of the money to support local fishermen concerned about the impact of the aircraft noise on their industry.

Yamaguchi requested discussions with the opposing fishermen's group which owns the potential deployment site. A senior official of the group expressed its intention to negotiate.

Onodera, who visited the governor earlier in the day, also met with the head of a local fishermen's group and told the latter that the ministry plans to conduct a thorough study on the effects of noise from the Ospreys on fish.

The ministry is seeking to deploy 17 newly acquired Ospreys at Saga airport to strengthen Japan's ability to protect outlying islands amid China's increasing maritime presence.

It is considering sending five of the 17, which are expected to arrive from the United States as early as the fall, tentatively to the Ground Self-Defense Force's Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, as Saga airport is unlikely to be ready for their deployment by then.

Tokyo has faced difficulty in pushing ahead with the plan after a GSDF AH-64D attack helicopter crashed into a home in Kanzaki in Saga Prefecture in February, resulting in the deaths of the pilot and co-pilot, while a girl was slightly injured when she fled the home.

U.S. government data show the rate of severe accidents involving the Marines' MV-22 Ospreys as of last September rose about 1.7 times from the figure released in April 2012.

But Defense Ministry officials have claimed that the rising percentage of accidents has nothing to do with the safety of the Osprey itself.

The ministry said the GSDF has no plans to conduct aerial refueling missions or other operations above Saga Prefecture, as part of safety measures.

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