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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Osprey Crash Must Not Impair Deterrence for Japan's Defense

Osprey aircraft play a critical role in the defense of Japan. So while investigating the recent crash and halting its deployment we must not neglect deterrence.

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A Maritime Self-Defense Force minesweeper searches the sea near Yakushima where the Osprey belonging to the US Air Force crashed. (©Kyodo)

A CV-22B Osprey vertical-takeoff-and-landing transport aircraft stationed at the United States Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo crashed on November 29 off the island of Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture. There were eight airmen on board. As of this publication, the bodies of six crew members have been confirmed dead. Recovery operations are still underway. 

This marked the first fatality in an Osprey accident in Japan. It was also the deadliest Osprey accident, according to Japan's Ministry of Defense

The tri-rotor aircraft in question belonged to the 353rd Special Operations Wing of the US Air Force. It was traveling from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture to US Air Base Kadena in Okinawa Prefecture.

The accident occurred during a training exercise integral to the bilateral defense of Japan and the United States. Likewise, it was crucial to peace in the region. We offer our condolences to those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty and also to their families. 

Ground Self-Defense Force members use binoculars to search the area where a US Air Force CV-22 Osprey crashed, December 4, Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture (©Kyodo)

Responding to the Accident

The Self-Defense Forces (SDF), Japan Coast Guard, and other parties continue to search. Hopefully, they will do all they can to recover the bodies of the remaining crew members.

It was a natural response to the tragedy for Defense Minister Minoru Kihara to request that the US military only resume Osprey flights after confirming their safety. It is problematic that US Forces Japan decided to continue to fly the Osprey even after that request. Notably, there is no ongoing contingency that would make their use an urgent matter. 

The weather in the area is reported to have been calm at the time of the crash and the aircraft's fuselage has been recovered. Hopefully, it will help identify the cause of the accident and lead to a thorough investigation. 

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Osprey can fly, hover, and perform vertical takeoffs and landings by changing the angle of their main rotor blades. Furthermore, there are multiple models of the aircraft flying today. They include the CV-22 for the US Air Force and the MV-22 for the US Marine Corps, as well as the V-22 of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. However, their basic structure, including the engine, is similar. 

CV22 Osprey was photographed on September 15, 2018 at the US military Yokota base in Tokyo. (©Kyodo)

A History that Rattles Nerves

In 2016, a US Marine Corps MV-22 crashed and was destroyed off the coast of Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture. More recently, in August 2023, a US Marine Corps MV-22 crashed during training on Melville Island in northern Australia. Unfortunately, three crew members died in that accident.

Although the overall accident rate for the Osprey is not abnormally high as compared to other models of military aircraft, there is no denying that crashes continue to occur. Steps must also be taken to alleviate the concerns of residents of areas near facilities used by the Osprey. The US military must also do everything possible to prevent more accidents. 

A fishing boat salvages what appears to be the remains of a US Air Force CV22 Osprey (right) off the coast of Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture, November 30. (©Kyodo)

Deterrence for Japan's Defense

Even as we ensure the safety of flight operations, we must not neglect deterrence. Japan's SDF, with the US military, provides this in line with our Japan-US alliance

Osprey aircraft are definitely superior to military-use helicopters in speed and range. They can play a critical role in the defense of the Nansei Shoto, which would require rapid deployment of troops. 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno's announcement at a press conference was therefore appropriate. He said that the deployment of Ground SDF V-22 would proceed at a site next to Saga Airport as planned. 

Nonetheless, no more V-22 flights are being scheduled by Japan pending clarification of the circumstances of the recent accident. We hope that the US military will expedite its investigation of the accident and share the results with the SDF. 

A Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel searches the area where the US Air Force CV22 Osprey crash occurred on December 1. (©Kyodo)

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(Updated December 5, 2023. Read the earlier version of the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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