U.S. to land MV-22 Osprey on Japanese ship in defense drill

The U.S. Marine Corps will land the helicopter-airplane hybrid MV-22 Osprey on Japan's helicopter destroyer Hyuga on Friday at Naval Base San Diego, marking the first time the U.S. will land the aircraft on a Japanese ship, a Marine Corps spokesman said Tuesday.

The exercise is one of the most highly anticipated events of Dawn Blitz 2013, a series of exercises in Southern California involving the U.S. military and forces from Japan, Canada and New Zealand. The exercises are aimed at enhancing the amphibious capabilities of participating militaries.

Hyuga Capt. Akihiko Tanabe said there are certain accommodations the ship and crew will have to make because of the large wingspan of the Osprey compared with the helicopters normally on the Hyuga, like designating a landing zone on the rear of the ship specifically for the aircraft.

Tanabe added that the MV-22 Osprey could prove useful if another disaster, like the 2011 triple disaster in the Tohoku region, were to happen again.

Brig. Gen. John Broadmeadow, commanding general of the U.S. Marine Corps' 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which is participating in the Dawn Blitz exercises, said in a statement provided to Kyodo News, "The very first landing of an MV-22 Osprey on a Japanese ship is a historic moment for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Marine Corps at large.

"Dawn Blitz 2013 provides us an opportunity to enhance our long-standing relationship with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and to highlight the capabilities of the MV-22 Osprey, which allows the Marine Corps and Navy to quickly respond to a crisis when launched from sea or land."

The MV-22 Osprey has been a subject of intense controversy in Okinawa, where the U.S. military stationed a squadron of the aircraft at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma last October. Protests exploded over worries about the aircraft's safety amid two crashes in Florida and Morocco in 2012.

A second squadron of the MV-22 Ospreys is scheduled to arrive in Okinawa this summer.

This year is the first time Japan's military is participating in the Dawn Blitz exercises and also marks the first time troops from Japan's ground, maritime and air Self-Defense Forces are participating in exercises together.

Sgt. Shinya Matsuo, 31, a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force rifleman, is among about 140 Japanese ground troops on the Hyuga for the exercises.

Matsuo, who is acting as a translator and interpreter during the exercises, said he and his fellow troops are excited about the opportunity to work with troops from other countries, but are also a little nervous.

The eight-year veteran of the ground Self-Defense Force added, "I think we need to make strong relationships with other countries' troops."

Crews from two others ships, the tank landing ship Shimokita and Aegis destroyer Atago, are also in San Diego for the exercises.