A pair of V-22 Ospreys arrived by ship in Iwakuni, Japan, on May 8, becoming the first tiltrotor aircraft belonging to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to roll onto home soil.
The aircraft were shipped to Japan on a commercial car carrying ship and offloaded at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, in the south of Japan’s main island, Honshu. They are the first two of five Osprey’s Japan ordered in 2015 for $332 million.
Ospreys are built partially in Pennsylvania and Texas by a joint venture between Bell and Boeing. Japanese pilots have been training to fly their own Block C variants of the V-22 at Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina since May 2019. The C variant includes an upgraded weather radar, advanced digital cockpit displays and other capability upgrades.
Japan plans to buy at least 17 Bell-Boeing MV-22Bs, the same tiltrotor aircraft flown by the U.S. Marine Corps. Japan is the first non-U.S. customer for the V-22.
The Bell-Boeing Joint Program Office is now working under a $4 billion multiyear contract to build 39 CMV-22B aircraft for the U.S. Navy, 14 MV-22B aircraft for the Marine Corps, one CV-22B for the Air Force and four MV-22Bs for Japan.
Japan’s Ospreys will initially be stationed at Kisarazu Air field near Tokyo where Japan’s 1st Helicopter Brigade and a maintenance facility for Japan-based Ospreys belonging to the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force are located. Several of Japan’s tiltrotors will eventually deploy aboard the helicopter carrier Izumo, according to local news reports.
Japan’s relationship with the V-22 has been fraught because of concerns over the aircraft’s safety record. A U.S. Marine Corps Osprey in December 2016 crashed in shallow water off Okinawa after clipping the hose of an Air Force C-130 during a nighttime aerial refueling operation. The pilot attempted to return to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the island but ditched in the ocean rather than risk flying over populated areas of Okinawa.
A long-simmering controversy over the stationing of U.S. troops on Okinawa also was exacerbated by noise from Ospreys flying from the base. A previous plan to station the Japanese aircraft at Saga Airport in Kyushu Prefecture was cancelled after local landowners refused to cooperate.
Friday’s unceremonious unloading of Japan’s own Ospreys was met by a small protest, according to reports.