MELBOURNE, Australia — The first Bell-Boeing V-22B Osprey tilt rotors ordered by Japan have arrived in their home country late last week, as the Asian nation continues to grapple with the dilemma of where to base the controversial aircraft.
Two Ospreys with the markings of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, or JASDF, arrived at the joint U.S. Marine Corps-Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force base at Iwakuni, near the city of Hiroshima.
The Ospreys, carrying the serial numbers JG-1701 (91701) and JG-1705 (91705), were shipped across the Pacific Ocean on a commercial car carrier to the pier adjoining the air base. And according to local media, they will be assembled, checked and test-flown before flying to another location in Japan.
According to Bell, at least four of Japan’s Ospreys were ready for delivery as far back as 2018, although the saga of their basing kept the aircraft at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina prior to their delivery to Japan.
Japan requested to buy 17 V-22B Block C Ospreys in May 2015 under the U.S. Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales program. Five were contracted two months later in July. The value of that contract was approximately $332 million, according to Japanese Defense Ministry budget figures.
The ministry originally planned to base the Ospreys at an expanded facility at Saga, which is near the city of Nagasaki and bases Japan’s newly formed Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade. However, the regional government and locals bitterly opposed the move, citing the Osprey’s perceived lack of safety.
The deployment of the Osprey by the JGSDF and the U.S. military in Japan has faced long-running opposition by some of the local population, fueled by a narrative around the Osprey’s safety record due to a number of crashes and accidents during the aircraft’s early days.
The mere unloading and potential test flight of the Ospreys has already sparked protests by locals at Iwakuni against an increased footprint of the armed forces.
In response to the opposition, the Japanese government plans to temporarily base the new Ospreys at Camp Kisarazu, southeast of Tokyo. That location also bases Japan’s 1st Helicopter Brigade and a maintenance facility for Japan-based American Ospreys belonging to the Marine Corps and the Air Force.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.