Japan gives DOD green light to begin V-22 Osprey flights

The deal was reached during Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's ongoing diplomatic swing through the Pacific region. News of the Osprey agreement came as Panetta was in Beijing, visiting with top Chinese defense officials. 

"This agreement was the result of a deep partnership and thorough process that allowed both sides to reconfirm the safety of the aircraft," DOD spokesman George Little said of the deal. 

"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 told reporters Wednesday in Beijing, according to a DOD statement. 

The deal brings to an end months of negotiations between the United States and Japan over the Bell-Boeing-built aircraft, which is designed to take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing plane.

The first group has been on station at the service air base in Iwakuni since late July, to replace the older CH-46 helicopters flown by Marine Corps units attached to Marine Expeditionary Force III stationed in the region, according to the Pentagon.

However, Osprey flight operations in Japan had been suspended since August, while the Pentagon was working with Tokyo to ensure the V-22's safety. 

For its part, Japan said it would not allow the Osprey to fly in Japanese airspace until DOD provided information on a number of incidents where the Osprey crashed during U.S.-led operations. 

One inquiry conducted by the Marine Corps on a fatal Osprey crash in Morocco cleared the plane of any fault for the incident.

Japanese defense officials were briefed on the Marine Corps' findings in late August, Deputy Commandant for Marine Corps Aviation Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle told reporters on Aug. 18. 

A second inquiry by the Air Force into a V-22 crash during a training mission in Florida is still under investigation. 

In both instances, Marine Corps and Air Force leaders decided not to suspend Osprey operations while military officials conducted investigations into the incidents.