Japan seeks to ground Osprey in wake of deadly Australia crash

he Japanese government has urged the U.S. military to ground all MV-22 Ospreys in Japan after one of the controversial tilt-rotor aircraft crashed off Australia’s eastern coast Saturday, presumably killing three Marines.

“I have requested that they refrain from all flight operations by MV-22 Ospreys in Japan,” newly appointed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Sunday.

Onodera – who took over last week for embattled former defense minister Tomomi Inada in the wake of a data cover-up scandal – also called on the Marines to provide information on the crash, to investigate its cause and to take preventative measures, a ministry spokeswoman said Monday.

As of Monday afternoon in Japan, Marine officials had not responded to Onodera’s request or to requests for comment from Stars and Stripes.

The helicopter-plane hybrid from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 crashed into the sea at around 4 p.m. Saturday after taking off from the USS Bonhomme Richard for regularly scheduled operations, Marine officials said in a series of statements over the weekend.

The aircraft – carrying 26 Marines at the time – was approaching the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay when it smashed into its deck and slid into the ocean, according to the Courier-Mail, a newspaper based in Brisbane, Australia.

All but three of the Marines were rescued after the Bonhomme Richard and Green Bay launched small boats and aircraft, the statements and media reports said.

After a shaky development history that included several deadly high-profile crashes, the Osprey became a symbol of the anti-base resistance on Okinawa in 2012 when it arrived on the island to replace the Marines’ aging fleet of Sea Knight helicopters. The aircraft has since been the focal point of near daily protests, and expelling it from the island was a major campaign promise of Gov. Takeshi Onaga’s during the 2014 election.

US Marines consider grounding Osprey fleet after deadly Australia crash

The US Marine Corps may ground its entire air fleet for a safety review following the crash of an Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in Australia that killed three Marines, a defense official said Monday.

The Japan-based Marine MV-22 Osprey crashed Saturday during an exercise off the Australian coast, leaving three service members missing and presumed dead.

"We are looking at our options in terms of reviewing safety across the Marine Corps fleet at the moment ... pending an across-the-board safety review," a US defense official told AFP, noting that the grounding could affect all flying squads in the service.

US officials are also weighing a request by Japan's new defense minister, who told the US military on Monday of his "many concerns" after it flew an Osprey in Japan following the crash.

Itsunori Onodera, appointed Thursday as Japan's defense minister, asked the US to temporarily stop flying the aircraft in his country following the accident.

According to the US official, the Osprey crashed after clipping the back of the USS Green Bay while trying to land on the amphibious transport ship. The Okinawa-based aircraft which crashed was in Australia as part of a joint military exercise called Talisman Sabre, which has just ended in Queensland state.

13 Marine Aircraft to Deploy to Australia

The Marine Corps this spring is sending its largest aircraft element to date -- four tilt-rotor Ospreys and five Super Cobra and four Huey helicopters, all out of Hawaii -- to the next $25 million rotation of Marines to northern Australia as the Corps continues to redistribute its forces around the Pacific.

The Marines are moving to four major forward areas of operation over the next decade -- Japan, Guam, Hawaii and Australia -- as part of a "distributed laydown" that seeks to deter growing threats in the vast Asia-Pacific region, particularly from from China and North Korea.

The Osprey, with its long range and speed, is seen as a key connector for the Marine Corps in its new island-hopping strategy.

In November 2011, President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that U.S. Marines would be sent on six-month rotational deployments to train with the Australian Defence Force in Darwin and elsewhere in the Northern Territory. The move puts the Marines closer to Southeast Asia and allows Australia, a key ally, to bolster its defense.

The presence was to grow to a 2,500-member Marine Air-Ground Task Force during the 2016-2017 time frame, but officials said the sixth iteration of the deployment will remain at 1,250 Marines who are expected to arrive in Australia in April.

Most of the Marines will be from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, out of Camp Pendleton in California, Marine Corps Forces Pacific said.

According to Australia's Department of Defence, 200 Marines deployed in 2012, 250 in 2013, 1,150 in 2014, 1,150 in 2015 and 1,250 in 2016.

But the deployment number is stuck at 1,250 for the time being as funding problems continue to be worked out for the full Marine Air-Ground Task Force of 2,500 with aircraft, vehicles and other equipment.

"The Marine Corps position to date has been that we will not grow the force beyond 1,250 Marines in Australia until we get some top-line (overall Marine Corps budget) relief for funding for military construction," Craig Whelden, executive director of Marine Corps Forces Pacific at Camp H.M. Smith, said at a recent Chamber of Commerce Hawaii event.

Whelden added that "we've essentially tapped out what we can use of existing facilities and for sustainment." The deployment of 1,250 Marines costs about $25 million, he said. Marine Corps Forces Pacific is the tasking authority for the units participating in the rotations.

Australia and the United States in October agreed to a more than $1.5 billion cost-sharing agreement to improve infrastructure in northern Australia as well as pay for ongoing costs over the 25-year pact -- ending a disagreement over who would pay the tab, The Australian newspaper reported.

Australian media also said the Marine Corps rotational force is expected to double to its full strength of 2,500 by 2020.

The four Hawaii MV-22 Ospreys scheduled to make the deployment are from Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 268 (VMM-268), while the five AH-1W Super Cobra and four UH-1Y Venom helicopters are part of Marine Light Attack Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367). The Aviation Combat Element of 13 aircraft will be hosted at Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin.

By comparison, the Marines sent four UH-1Y helicopters for the rotational deployment in 2016 and four big CH-53E Super Stallions in 2015, according to Australia's Defence Department.

Whelden called the next contingent to deploy "a more diversified, a more capable force than we've had previously."

The "distributed laydown" in the Pacific, which dovetails with the Marine Corps' expeditionary nature and ability to rapidly move forces from one place to another, calls for moving more than 4,000 Marines from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam. Whelden said hundreds of millions of dollars already have been invested on Guam, with wharves to support amphibious ready group ships already completed and ramp and hangar work ongoing for Ospreys and the new F-35B Lightning II, which the Corps called the "world's first operational supersonic short takeoff and vertical landing fighter." "We aren't basing F-35s in Guam, but we train on Guam a lot," Whelden said. Ten of the stealth fighters this week were sent to Iwakuni, Japan, with six more expected to arrive this summer. Whelden said the relocation of about 2,700 Marines from Okinawa to Hawaii is about 10 years away.

US Marines ground fleet of Osprey aircraft in Japan

The U.S.A. Marine Corps has suspended flights of its Osprey aircraft in Japan after one of the planes crash-landed off the coast of Okinawa, injuring five crew members.

The crash triggered protests on Okinawa, where anti-U.S. military sentiment is already strong.

Many Okinawans were opposed to deploying the Osprey on the island due to safety concerns following a string of crashes outside Japan, including one in Hawaii last year.
The Mayor of Nago, Susumu Inamine, said: 'This is what we have feared might happen some day. We can never live safely here.'

More than half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa under the Japan-US security treaty.

Defiant wife of Japanese PM Abe visits US Okinawa base construction protest

Japan’s first lady Akie Abe says she is “ready to face criticism” after attending an anti-government rally, protesting the construction of new helipads at the US-operated military in Okinawa.

“This is my first step to create a world of love and harmony,” Akie Abe wrote in a Facebook status update.

The helipads are being constructed as compensation for a 1996 agreement, in which the US would hand back 4,000 hectares out of the 7,800 that constitute the training area, providing six new landing spots would be built on the remaining land.

Construction began in 2007, yet so far only two have been completed, after an unending series of protests and legal challenges.

Work has recently restarted, but residents of the nearby village of Higashi – who say that the helipads will be too close to residential areas – have blockaded roads, prevented trucks carrying materials from entering the construction site, and staged sit-ins.

Nearly three quarters of US military resources in Japan are located on the small archipelago to the south of most of Japan’s islands, and residents say they have long been inconvenienced by the base, which was constructed following the country’s defeat in World War II.