- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2017

Marine Corps based in Japan and elsewhere in the Pacific are continuing apace with air operations using the MV-22 Osprey, despite requests from Tokyo to suspend those missions in the wake of a possibly fatal crash in the region over the weekend.

As of Monday, no flight restrictions have been placed on the 24 Ospreys based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma or other U.S. airbases in the Pacific, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said. That said, senior military leaders at U.S. Pacific Command, and their diplomatic counterparts at the American embassy in Tokyo, have held a series of talks on how to improve safety requirements for future Osprey operations, Capt. Davis told reporters at the Pentagon.

The hybrid aircraft, which is designed to fly like an airplane but take off and land like a helicopter, entered service with the Marine Corps in 2007. A special operations variant dubbed the CV-22 went into operation that same year, assigned to the Air Force’s 8th

Special Operations Squadron. The MV-22 that crashed off the coast of Australia Saturday were attached to 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa.

Marine Corps officials in Okinawa announced Sunday it had suspended rescue efforts for the three Marines still missing from the crash. The remaining 23 Marines aboard the Osprey were rescued after the incident.

“Operations have now shifted to recovery efforts. The next of kin for the three missing Marines have been notified.” Marine Corps officials said in a statement. “As the sea state permits, recovery efforts will be conducted to further search, assess and survey the area, in coordination and with assistance from the Australian Defence Force.”

On Monday, Capt. Davis declined to comment on whether those ongoing discussions had focused on suspending Marine Corps missions that utilize the Osprey, or whether the Pentagon was considering Japan’s request to halt those operations. The Osprey deployments, along with other U.S. military investments, “are specifically for the defense of Japan” and other American allies in the Pacific, he added.

His comments come a day after Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera confirmed that Japan had asked the Pentagon to suspend Osprey operations in the skies above the Asian nation, declining to provide details of the request, the Japan Times reported Sunday.

Local leaders in Okinawa have long claimed the large, continuous American presence on the island poses serious security and environmental concerns to its citizens. Washington is currently in the process of relocating the main U.S. military facility at Futenma to a less populated area on the island. As part of the move to Henoko Bay, Pentagon officials have agreed to temporarily relocate a number of Marines assigned to Futenma to American bases in Guam.

Okinawan opponents of the Henoko Bay move have squabbled with with Tokyo, tying up the process in the Japanese courts over the past several years. Defense Secretary James Mattis weighed in on the situation in February, saying the Henoko option “is the only solution that will enable the United States” to maintain a stalwart presence in the region as a key military ally to Japan.

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