The U.S. and Japan have come to an agreement to deploy 24 Marine V-22 Osprey aircraft to its base in Okinawa, Japan sometime in October, the Pentagon announced Wednesday from Beijing, where Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is visiting.
"Secretary Panetta is pleased that we have been able to reach agreement with the Government of Japan that permits the Osprey to commence flight operations in Japan," said Defense Department Press Secretary George Little.
"This agreement was the result of a deep partnership and thorough process that allowed both sides to reconfirm the safety of the aircraft. It is a testament to the strength and maturity of our Alliance, which remains the cornerstone for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region," he said in a statement.
The deployment was a subject of controversy between the two countries, after Okinawa residents protested the deployment, citing safety concerns largely after the aircraft — which takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane — crashed twice earlier this year.
According to Reuters, the Japanese defense minister Satoshi Morimoto declared on Wednesday that the tilt-rotor aircraft is safe and will become fully operational in Japan next month.
"Secretary Panetta has placed a high priority on reaching this agreement, directed numerous senior officials at the Department of Defense to work on this issue over the past several months, and raised the issue in multiple discussions with Forerign Minister Gemba and Defense Minister Morimoto, including earlier this week," Mr. Little said.
"The Osprey will provide a critical capability that strengthens the United States' ability to defend Japan, perform humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, and fulfill other Alliance roles. With twice the speed, three times the payload, and four times the range, the Osprey will make a major contribution in upgrading the capabilites of the Alliance," he said.
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