A controversial U.S. military Osprey aircraft took part Friday in a joint exercise between the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido.
The MV-22 tilt-rotor transport aircraft joined the exercise despite local opposition after the central government withdrew an earlier request to the United States to stop flying the plane for a period of time following a fatal crash of an Osprey off Australia.
The accident record of Ospreys, which take off and land like helicopters but cruise like airplanes, has raised concern in Japan.
Friday’s exercise, open to the press, is the first time an Osprey has participated in Japan-U.S. joint drills since one of the aircraft based in Okinawa was involved in the Aug. 5 deadly crash in waters off Australia.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tuesday that up to six Ospreys would join the exercise.
The first arrived in Hokkaido just before noon Friday, having left the U.S. military’s Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan, at around 10:40 a.m., the regional bureau of the Defense Ministry said.
About 1,300 GSDF personnel and 2,000 U.S. troops will participate in the exercise, which will take place until Aug. 28 at locations in Hokkaido, according to the headquarters of the GSDF’s Northern Army.
The drill began on Aug. 10. Before the crash, Ospreys were scheduled to join the exercise from the start.
There is a plan for the Ospreys to fly at night during the exercise, according to a source close to the Defense Ministry.
The Japanese government had asked the United States to suspend the Ospreys’ participation after the Australia accident but gave its approval to the restart of flights on Aug. 11 following a U.S. briefing about safety.