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US military aircraft fly over Tokyo suburbs with machine gun pointing outward: civic group

An Osprey aircraft with a machine gun pointed outward near the tail end of the aircraft is seen flying near U.S. Air Force's Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo on Jan. 4, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Hamura Peace Committee)

TOKYO -- Special operations CV-22 Osprey aircraft deployed to U.S. Air Force's Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo have frequently been seen flying with machine guns facing outward toward residential areas by local residents and others.

    A local civic group confirmed a total of around 40 aircraft flying in such a position for over a year starting June 2018. Even though it is possible to hide the machine gun from the outside, such flights have taken place even this year, angering local residents who say, "We cannot tolerate such flights, in which they conduct training pretending that our neighborhoods are targets, and therefore instilling fear in us."

    The CV-22 tiltrotor Osprey aircraft, with vertical landing and takeoff capability, as well as long-range, high-speed cruise capacity, were officially deployed to Yokota base in October 2018. The aircraft envisages going into enemy territory, and can fly at low altitudes and at night. Their foremost purpose is the transport of special operations troops that undertake counterterrorism operations and rescue missions of civilians, but shots can also be fired from the machine gun attached to the deck toward the back of the aircraft.

    The civic group Hamura Heiwa Iinkai -- or Hamura Peace Committee -- based in the Tokyo suburb of Hamura, carried out intensive monitoring activities before and after the Ospreys were deployed to Yokota base. Of the CV-22 Ospreys that were witnessed flying over residential areas in the year starting at the end of June 2018, a total of 30 were found to have been flying with their machine guns visible from the outside. The group said that there was even a month in which there were seven such sightings.

    Once a CV-22 Osprey corps was established on July 1, 2019, the number of the sightings became even more frequent. Between July 3 and 11, a total of nine such flights were confirmed.

    This issue was brought up in the House of Councillors Audit Committee in May 2019. Referring to the U.S. military's Osprey flights with their machine guns pointed outward above residential areas, then Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said that he was not aware of the details of how the Ospreys were being operated, but added that he would like to "seek the maximum level of consideration for safety from the U.S. side." But according to the Hamura Peace Committee, there do not appear to be any significant changes since in how the Ospreys are being operated, and similar flights have continued to take place.

    The Hamura committee's chief, Mieko Takahashi, 79, finds problematic the current state of affairs in which the flights with machine guns pointed outward are still continuing along with low-altitude flights, which create significant noise, and late-night flights. "We must not allow (the U.S. military) to use the skies above our residential areas as training grounds, and our neighborhoods as targets," Takahashi said. "It is not permissible for the U.S. military to do whatever it pleases, and the Japanese government must stand up for itself and deal with the situation."

    What is the U.S. military's reaction to the local residents' sentiments? To questions from the Mainichi Shimbun, U.S. Forces Japan did not reveal details on the purpose of the flights, but responded in writing, "the regular flying configuration for the CV-22 Osprey does include a weapon secured at the rear of the plane in a safe position with no ammunition. All our air operations are conducted in accordance with the relevant agreements and regulations between the United States government and the Government of Japan. We make every effort to minimize our impact to local communities while ensuring we maintain proficiency in our flight operations for the defense of Japan."

    (Japanese original by Shinji Kurokawa, Tokyo City News Department, and Tamami Kawakami, Foreign News Department)

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