Japan’s Defense Chief Insists Osprey Flights Will Continue Despite US Restrictions

June 15, 2024 by No Comments

Japan’s Defense Minister Minoru Kihara stated on Friday that Japanese and American V-22 Ospreys are being operated safely in Japan and that he has no intention of requesting a flight suspension despite restrictions in the U.S. where safety and performance assessments will continue until next year.

Kihara explained that Japanese and U.S. officials have been closely communicating about technical issues concerning Osprey safety following a fatal crash in November off Japan’s southern coast.

“Japanese and U.S. Ospreys have been operated safely, and I believe there is no safety issue involved,” Kihara said. “We have no intention to seek a suspension of the operation.”

He added that aircraft that have undergone necessary maintenance, along with further pilot training, have returned to flight service and are being operated with enhanced safety checks, maintenance, flight plans, emergency measures, and other precautions.

Kihara was responding to a statement by Vice Adm. Carl Chebi, head of U.S. Naval Air Systems Command, who announced that hundreds of U.S. military Ospreys will not be allowed to perform their full range of missions until at least 2025 while the Pentagon addresses safety concerns within the fleet.

The November crash resulted in the deaths of eight U.S. service members, grounding the fleet for approximately four months. In March, Ospreys resumed flight operations but not full missions such as carrier operations.

Twenty-nine Ospreys deployed to U.S. military bases in Japan under the bilateral security alliance, as well as 14 others operated by Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force, which had also been grounded, resumed flights in mid-March.

When asked about restrictions on Ospreys operating in Japan, Kihara declined to comment on the specifics or existence of any restrictions, citing national security reasons. He stated that he was not informed of the content of Chebi’s remarks to in advance and that officials are seeking clarification from Washington.

The Osprey, in use since 2007, can fly like an airplane and land like a helicopter. Critics argue that its innovative design has systematic flaws contributing to unexpected failures. One reason for the extended flight restrictions is the military’s ongoing efforts to address a clutch failure identified as a primary factor in a fatal crash in California in 2022.

Chebi stated that, throughout the Osprey program’s lifespan, a total of 64 service members have been killed in air and ground crashes, with 93 others injured.