Japan’s Ministry of Defense is set to move forward with its purchases of the controversial MV-22 Osprey aircraft as it is widely seen as the best way of rapidly transporting troops to potential hot spots. With tensions involving China regarding disputed territory near the Okinawa prefecture, the Osprey aircraft – able to launch and land vertically – has enough speed in its fixed wing mode to get to troubled areas quicker and has enough payload capabilities to transport more personnel or equipment.
The Osprey is a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft that also operates like a normal plane during forward motion. For this reason, the US-built Osprey has a top speed of 530 km/h – almost double that of modern helicopters – has and a 3,900 kilometer range five times greater than the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. As Japan moves to face the potential Chinese threat by having a more flexible transport for the country’s Ground Self Defense Forces that is able to rapidly deploy to counter threats to Japanese territory in the south, the Osprey looks to be the most viable option, despite of the controversies that surround the aircraft.
In budget requests for fiscal 2014 that were put forward this week, Japan’s defense ministry is asking 100 million yen (over US$1 million) just to study the purchase and capabilities of the Osprey. If this inquest goes well, the ministry will seek to purchase up to 20 Ospreys in 2015. The aircraft can operate from aircraft carriers – or the helicopter destroyers that Japan has – and also be refueled in-flight. The Osprey has been unpopular in Okinawa, where the bulk of US forces in Japan are hosted, even as it is currently being deployed by US marines there. Protesters claim that the aircraft is unsafe, but the US said that recent incidents involving Ospreys were solely the result of “pilot error”.