Ospreys used for 1st time in U.S.-Japan joint drills outside Okinawa

Japan and the United States conducted joint drills Wednesday using MV-22 Osprey aircraft in Shiga Prefecture in western Japan, the first training outside Okinawa using the controversial tilt-rotor aircraft.

The exercise through Friday is being held in Shiga as the latest effort to ease the burden on Okinawa of hosting more than 70 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan.

Despite a powerful typhoon that killed more than 10 people Wednesday on an island near Tokyo, two Ospreys arrived at the Aibano training area in Shiga near Kyoto in the morning for the joint training exercise involving Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Marines.

Tokyo and Washington are trying to quell concerns over the safety of Ospreys while emphasizing the effectiveness of the aircraft in responding to natural disasters as an exercise to prepare for a massive earthquake is scheduled for Oct. 25 in Kochi Prefecture.

"If we can conduct more training on the mainland, it will help reduce the burden borne by Okinawa," Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters. "This is the first step."

The two Ospreys moved from the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa to the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Tuesday. Japan's Defense Ministry said the Ospreys transported SDF personnel and U.S. Marines during Wednesday's training to stop an enemy under attack from fleeing.

Since October last year, the U.S. military has deployed in Okinawa a total of 24 Ospreys, which can take off and land like a helicopter and cruise like an airplane. The aircraft's multiple accidents overseas have raised safety concerns among the people of Okinawa where anti-base sentiment runs high.

Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, who had asked the central government to provide details about the training to ease safety concerns, said she can support the training "to a certain degree" if Okinawa is relieved of some of its base-hosting burden.

The training comes after Tokyo and Washington agreed in early October to revise their defense cooperation guidelines to better cope with security challenges in the 21st century in view of China's maritime assertiveness and North Korea's missile and nuclear ambitions.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now waiting for Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima to approve an application to begin land reclamation work to relocate the Futenma Air Station from a densely populated area to follow through on a bilateral agreement.