MELBOURNE, Australia ― The U.S. Air Force has deployed the CV-22 tiltrotor aircraft to Japan this week, more than a year ahead of schedule.
In a statement issued Tuesday, United States Forces Japan, or USFJ, announced that five U.S. Air Force Bell-Boeing CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft are scheduled to arrive at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo this week, ahead of the previously announced fiscal 2020 timeline.
The statement added that the early arrival of the CV-22s “in the Pacific Command Area of Responsibility addresses regional security concerns in line with the recently released 2018 National Defense Strategy and also provides a platform that can rapidly react to natural disasters or crises.”
Yokota is the home of the USAF’s 374th Airlift Wing. Kaori Matsukasa, spokeswoman from the wing’s Public Affairs Office, told Defense News that the Ospreys are assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Group out of Kadena Air Base at Okinawa even though they will work and operate out of Yokota.
Japanese media outlets subsequently broadcast video of the five Ospreys being unloaded from a ship berthed at the port of Yokohama on Wednesday, with the Ospreys flying into Yokota on Thursday morning local time.
The CV-22s will remain at Yokota for a short time before leaving to conduct training around the region for the next few months and will continue to operate from Yokota upon their return. A total of 10 aircraft are expected to be assigned to Yokota as part of a phased-basing plan over the next several years, according to USFJ.
The arrival of the CV-22s makes it the second unit operating the type permanently based overseas after the 7th Special Operations Squadron at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom, and marks the first time the Osprey will be based in mainland Japan. The Yokota-based Ospreys will join the two Marine Corps MV-22 squadrons currently operating in the region based from Marine Combat Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, south of the Japanese mainland.
The V-22 Osprey is a tiltrotor aircraft that combines the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range, fuel efficiency and speed characteristics of a turboprop aircraft. The Okinawa-based Ospreys have been successfully utilized for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, most notably by rapidly self-deploying to disaster affected areas in Nepal and the Philippines without the need to be transported by ship.
Japan has also ordered 17 Ospreys to equip its newly formed amphibious rapid deployment brigade, with the first aircraft currently undergoing flight testing in the U.S. However, questions remain over the future basing of the Japanese Ospreys over safety concerns of the type.
Safety concerns have also dogged the deployment of the Ospreys in Okinawa, as well as local unhappiness over the disproportionate burden the island bears in hosting U.S. military bases compared to mainland Japan.
Despite these concerns, Richard Whittle, who has authored a book on the 25-year, $22 billion development of the Osprey, has previously been quoted as saying that the type “is really a safe military aircraft,” with a safety record better than the helicopters it replaced.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.