Why is Japan Suddenly Freaked Out by the Osprey? (Updated)

As reported by our sister blog DoD Buzz, last week the Japanese government balked at USMC basing a squadron of V-22s in Okinawa — a development that certainly surprised the Marine Corps (and DoD) and demonstrated that, for all of its flight hours across the globe, the airplane’s bad reputation still lingers.

Or does it?

Some defense industry insiders claim that the hubub around V-22 basing in and around Japan has little to do with concerns about aircraft safety and a lot to do with the politics of Okinawa versus the Japanese mainland.  “You have one percent of the population hosting 74 percent of the country’s military capability,” said one defense official.  Apparently the governor of Okinawa is looking for any reason to make an issue out of U.S. military basing in his region — and the V-22 gave him a couple of reasons in recent months. 

An MV-22 crashed April 22 near Agadir, Morocco while participating in Exercise African Lion, and a CV-22 Osprey crashed June 13 during a training mission north of Navarre, Fla., injuring five crew members.

While the mishap investigations are not final, DoD has allowed that the Marine Corps crash was not caused by a mechanical failure, which could be code for “pilot error”  or another factor like weather or a bird strike, etc.  That is ironically good news in the case of foreign government concerns in that it says that the airplane isn’t inherently dangerous.

 The Osprey’s checkered test history lives in defense procurement and military aviation infamy, no doubt.  But the Marine Corps is quick to point out that — in spite of its extensive time in test and development — the V-22 is still relatively young from an operational point of view.  (The Corps just surpassed 115,000 flight hours on the MV-22B variant and SOCOM (AFSOC) has flown 25,000 flight hours.)  The Osprey has done a number of high-profile ops, including the rescue of a downed aviator in Libya last year.

At this writing the first squadron of WESTPAC-based Ospreys are headed for Japan aboard a commercial ship.  Once they arrive they’ll fly a couple of post-transit check hops out of MCAS Iwakuni — and that’s it.  At that point they’ll sit and wait for the results of both mishap investigations to be finalized and presented to the Japanese government, which should happen around late July.  The ultimate plan is to have both USMC and SOCOM Ospreys forward-deployed out of Futenma Air Base in Okinawa.

Some airplanes outgrow their bad reputations.  (The Tomcat comes to mind.)  Others never do.  (The Harrier comes to mind.)  What camp will the Osprey ultimately fall into?

Breaking news:  Okinawa’s governor rejects the plan.

  • What was the Tomcat’s bad rap? The compressor stalls?

    • Sir Sapo

      Violent compressor stalls that resulted in more than a few aircraft losses. The TF-30 wasn’t the greatest fighter engine in the world which left the Tomcat pretty underpowered until the B and D upgrades.

    • krypton

      Worse than that, the plane was becoming a publicity problem (large two-man crew deaths often are), which is why they dragged in your obedient Scientologist to do a recruiting film about it.

      The A-4 was really hot. So was Kelly McGillis.

  • Ward

    Yeah . . . that and high AOA performance.

  • Dfens

    What could possibly have gone wrong? We told them it was the pilots who sucked and not the aircraft, but still they don’t want our “worthless” pilots flying that aircraft in their airspace. Yeah, who would have possibly seen that result coming? Idiots.

  • Hunter76

    Yeah, the rapes are hard to forgive. The military should have the right to yield some cases to local jurisprudence.

    • UAVgeek

      In the case of Okinawa and Japan, the SOFA agreement means that any crimes committed locally are handled by the Japanese justice system, which if charges are brought, a conviction is almost a foregone conclusion. Know the rules before you play on the turf.

  • Lance

    The V-22 is NOT a real advantage compared to helicopters or fixed wing transports via C-130. Overall most defense experts wanted to abandon the V-22 but politics saved this POJ. Overall newer choppers like some newer CH-53 would be far better to base in crowded Japan than this plan which has and will always have crash issues.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “….most defense experts ….”

      These being who? And please also provide evidence that these “who”‘s constitute “most defense experts”.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen
      Luxembourg

    • tiger

      Sorry, but Thumbs down on that one. Choppers are not any safer and aerodynamicaly limited in speed and other factors.

    • Vulpine

      Unlike some, I believe the V-22 has some serious advantages by having the longer legs of a fixed-wing bird with the VTOL of a helicopter. It is a supplementary bird that has the ability to go farther, faster than a helicopter yet still land in a space not much different from a CH-47. However, as it is a hybrid of both aircraft types, this does mean flying it is more complicated.

      Now, if we ever start using quad-rotor craft we might see a whole new paradigm.

  • jamesb

    Marine One fleet duties?

    • WILd

      They surely wouldn’t trust it to fly the POTUS around.

  • majr0d

    The Japanese don’t like Ospreys? No problem, they didn’t like nukes either.

    We aren’t flying the local nationals around in the Osprey.

  • Mike

    Unfortunately, most very young Marines are loaded with testosterone, and when they drink, they can and do make asses of themselves. Not that all branches have this problem, but the Marines have a larger segment of chest thumpers than the other branches.

  • Chiketah

    The Chinese don’t want us in Japan because the V-22 can launch combat loaded Marines straight from Okinawa, drop them in an LZ in China, and return to base or a friendly country for fuel. China pays the protesters to sit outside all day, they make the news, Okinawans see the news, raise questions, osprey crashes, Osprey “unsafe”, diplomatic nightmare, China wins. Except they don’t because the Ospreys are going whether they like it or not.

    • tiger

      What in the Wide, wide, world of sports?? What is a plane load of Marines going to do in a Nation of a Billion & a half people???? Even Sterling Archer & ISIS would have a better plan than that one.

      • UAVgeek

        You’d be surprised how much damage a small team of Force Recon Marines can do if not detected right away. But most of it would be recon for heavier assets. You don’t think the exact, gps location of the homes of the people manning the local SAM battery would be a nice thing to have?

        • champy

          What idiot would land a few Marines in China. They’d be dead within hours. China is not Iraq.

          • Riceball

            Maybe not hours but I agree with the general sentiment and this is coming from a former Marine too. A small handful of Marines landing in China would definitely have a hard time of it, China is far more populous than most Middle Eastern nations and a lot that population is pretty coastal and I’m not sure that you could successfully fly an Osprey that far inland without being detected.

            UAVgeek, the locations of where SAM battery crews would be somewhat useful but not really the sort of thing that Marine Recon does, that’s more of a CIA type of thing. Besides, I’d imagine that the vast majority of Chinese SAM crews live on base with mostly on the officers living off base, remember, China’s military (to the best of my knowledge) is still largely conscript based and I don’t think that conscripts are typically off base housing. The sort of thing that Marine Recon would be concerned with are the locations of the SAM batteries themselves along with anything capable of hitting amphibs.

    • blight_

      I learned in Halo that a small force of Marines can change the fate of the universe.

  • meatpopsicle

    Last time I checked we won the war. Tough shit japan.

    • JackBlack

      Eat crap, so by your terms you invade and conquer a sovereign country, right, middle ages much? Why did we lose Nam, and Korea and Columbia and…

      • krypton

        The marines learned in the South Pacific that a lot of Marines could get killed by a bunch of lunatics with granades, and usable rifles, wearing loincloths.

    • tiger

      Please come into the year 2012?

    • DrSique

      Not to mention, meat, that we supply and fund most of the defense for the effin ingrates. Perhaps a few boatloads of nuclear tipped tomahawks would be easier for them to swallow.

  • Pappa51

    I have always thought that we should leave Japan, Germany, Korea, etc to stand up for themselves. They complain and moon over some incident then if we leave there economy goes to pot. I say save the money and the man power, bring our guys home, let the locals protect themselves and stop living on our dime.
    Cheers

  • Mitch S.

    Had a brief visit to Okinawa about ten years ago.
    Found that officially they were pissed at the Americans, but if you spoke to the old timers (at least in Japanese) they’d tell you they remember how badly the Japanese treated them before the battle and they appreciate the way the Americans cared for them.
    They also know if it weren’t for the military Tokyo would completely ignore them. And if the Japanese took a bigger role the Okinawans would have nobody to complain to if abuses occurred (Mainland Japanese look down on Okinawans as not being “real Japanese”).

    If the US announced that we agree and in fact will pull all our forces off Oki I wonder how that governor would do in the next election.

    • UAVgeek

      He’d do really well. Obviously you don’t speak enough Japanese to know what they REALLY think.

      • Mitch S.

        I was with a native Japanese. It wasn’t the communication that makes my comment a guess, it’s the small and narrow sample.
        We only spoke with a few old timers (and a middle aged cab driver), and that was over 10 years ago (though Okinawans are long lived) so I’m not arguing with you, but I do believe they were being honest.

        I don’t know the stats but I’d guess the US bases are a big part of Okinawa’s economy. People complain (often justifiably) but tend to quiet down when their livelihood is on the line.(The resorts are seasonal, the sugar cane fields are tough work, guess they can make more habu liqueur! ).

        I read somewhere that part of the problem with US forces on Oki was that being posted to Okinawa was seen as a career dead end so senior officers assigned there were not the best and morale/discipline suffered.
        Do your observations agree?

    • terry

      We killed 25% of Okinawans as we liberated them from the Japanese. We turned that beautiful island into a barren rock. No, they didn’t like that.

      • William C.

        Well maybe they should blame the Imperial Japanese government that started the whole mess, that conscripted Okinawan civilians into their forces to die in futile attacks.

  • JackBlack

    Unfortunately this heli crap is news still and not history.

  • JBomb

    First off we are not in Japan to protect Japan, we are in Japan to protect our interests in the region. Second, if America pulled out of Japan their military is not strong enough to protect the country by itself and it would take a significant amount of time to build it up to do so. Therefore if that is the direction we want to take, it needs to be a long term plan to allow them to do so without leaving them vulnerable, and that would include changing their laws we implemented at the end of WW2. Thirdly, and I am surprised the governor doesn’t realize that if we pulled out of Okinawa the local Okinawa economy would be devastated.

    • Robert Fritts

      Protect Japan from what? Their Biggest Trading Partners? I’m a old Cold Warrior but the world has changed. Time for Us to come home. Keep our Big stick, but come home.
      What if the Chinese dominate East Asia? Duhh! They are the biggest, richest nation in East Asia, they already dominate East Asia, nothing we can do about it.
      If we leave the Middle East Iran will dominate the Persian Gulf? Did you hear what your saying. There is a reason its been the PERSIAN Gulf for 6000 years.
      What about radicals who want to re-establish the Muslim Calipate? Too late, its Feat Accompli.
      Cut the budget and reinforce the USA’s borders.

      • krypton

        Left out the part about Iran being the small-size (and not as civilized) version of Ancient Persia, but otherwise, yup.

    • Ohio Shawn

      They have the worlds 3rd largest modern army, how can they not be ready to take care of themselves?

  • Roland

    Probably it’s the size, sound and the falling part…

  • Sandra

    G2mil has a new article about this mess. First, our senators have openly rejected the idea of spending $24 billion to move 4000 Marines to Guam (not 9000 as reported). Half the Marines are leaving Okinawa, Futenma, Kinser and Foster are closing, Kadena is downsizing, and some Marine aircraft will move up to Kadena, which is ten times larger. That is the plan endorsed by Senator Webb, McCain, and Levin. This costs nothing and makes a lot of sense if you read the details.

    • blight_

      I saw that post too, but wasn’t sure how to start investigating its veracity.

    • LoSul

      G2mil….a stalwart source of objectivity regarding anything to do with the Osprey….

      Come on, do you watch Rachel Maddow to hear a neutral take on Mitt Romney, or listen to Rush Limbaugh to form your opinion of Barak Obama?

  • Old Navy

    Tell them it beats the B29’s. As for the Marines, Semper Fi…Let the Japanese go it alone. They will be speaking Chinese in two three generations. A side note I wonder when the Chinese will build a aircraft like the V22. Guess no American/Canadian company has sold them the info/software/code or they, the Chinese, haven’t stolen the info on their own.

  • Philippines here we come!

    • patriot

      Philippines not really a bad place for American armed forces for basing naval and air forces that Japan has problem with…Phiippines is strategically located that’s not only support Japan but the rest of countries in Asia that is allied to USA esp. S Korea.U.S forces in Japan and Korea combine about 1/3rd should be relocated to the PHIL. if possible to give those countries government relief of constant irritants in dealing with there citizens and our expanding military pivot to Asia

      • blight_

        Japan is well placed to support Korea. Then again, most bases are on the Pacific side of Japan and not its SCS/Korea-facing side.

      • krypton

        Philippines also no longer under rule of boss Marco and shoeless witch. Philippines actually have real government now. Philippines no more want white boys, no more want Navy Pilots either. Docking military ships cost real bucks now.

        Now Filipinos only learn one language- their own. In any case, the volcanoes there are not helping matters (one disabled most aircraft on the islands- nothing like fine pumice spray for engines and plexi windows). Great place to put a bunch of stealth-painted aircraft. Makes ’em real shiny.

  • SP/4 Chapman

    How ’bout we put a end to foreign aid ( internat’l welfare ) and bring our people home and then we can spend that money at home.!

    • tiger

      It’s not 1898 and we live in a Nation that stretches from Guam to The U.S.V.I. We can’t sit behind a Great wall of America called the Atlantic & Pacific any more. Home? The job of defense is forward. Not sitting in Ft. Dix polishing Boots. We have bases in Japan to arm, refuel, & resuply from. It’s not practical to shiip everything or everyone from state side. That takes time….. Read about the Korean War sometime. It took weeks to get men, planes & supplies to Korea in 1950. In a few weeks most of the nation was over run & our backs to the sea at Pusan.

    • Andy Hughes

      Japan is one of the richest countries in the world; it doesn’t need your pathetic ‘aid’.

  • Mastro

    The brass just might to want to pass on any “Osprey flights for Okinawan orphans” PR stunts.

    At least until the safety record matches that of the 747 or so.

  • tiger

    The V-22 has a better record than many other Boeing products. I’ll take it over a 737 or Chinnook any day.

  • Tiger
  • atiboy14

    They are freaked out because the Osprey is a flying coffin and never should have entered service

  • Lcpl Petersen

    Straight up, if you really wanna see the Japanese shit bricks, get all the military personnel stationed on the Japanese islands to order and wear Sea Shepard T-shirts. The fuckers are still whaling in the southern arctic whale preserves…even after an international moratorium was ratified by over a hundred countries.

  • japanisgay.org

    Because japan is gay

  • BILLE

    YOU ARE ALL DUMB.. THE OKINAWANS WANT THE BASES THERE, YEAH, SOME BAD THINGS HAPPEN.. I.E. RAPE AND WHATEVER.. BUT HMMMMM YUUP THEIR ENTIRE ECONOMY IS SUPPORTED BY ALL THE US PERSONNELL THERE. ITS THE MAINLAND THAT DRIVES THE PUSH TO HAVE IT ALL REMOVED. AGAIN, YOU ARE ALL DUMB

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      ….and typing in all caps does not make you look smarter, and it does not add validity to your (and I use the term in its loosest possible sense) argument.

      Shake your head and try again.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen
      Luxembourg