Osprey operations in Japan at risk in wake of rape allegations

On Sunday, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima headed to Washington to meet with U.S. military and administration officials to discuss the rape case and the possible future of American forces in the Japanese territory. 


"I will talk about the Osprey transport aircraft and the latest case," he told reporters before leaving for the U.S., according to reports by the BBC. 

The detention of the two U.S. sailors by Japanese authorities last Tuesday on suspicion of rape sparked widespread protests across Okinawa and set off massive public outcry over controversial American military presence in Japan. 

Meantime, the Pentagon is preparing to move hundreds of Marines out of bases in Okinawa and redeploy those forces to installations in Guam, Australia, the Philippines and elsewhere in the Pacific. 

That shift of forces was brought on, in part, by public demand in Okinawa to get the Marines off the island after three U.S. service members were charged with gang raping a 12-year-old girl. 

On Monday, members of the Okinawa legislative assembly passed a resolution condemning the U.S. and Japanese governments for the incident, demanding a massive overhaul of American oversight of its troops operating in the Asian nation, according to local reports by Kyodo News Service. 

''Preventive measures and instructions to [U.S.] servicemen have become dysfunctional," according to the assembly, who are also seeking financial compensation for the alleged victim and her family. 

American commanders at U.S. Forces Japan have since imposed a curfew on all personnel in the country in response to the incident.

The subsequent political backlash from the rape accusations could undo months of negotiations between the United States and Japan over the V-22 Osprey, which is designed to take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing plane.

Tokyo blocked the Osprey from Okinawan airspace until DOD provided information on a number of incidents in which the Osprey crashed during U.S.-led operations. 

One inquiry conducted by the Marine Corps of 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. 

However, the Marine Corps' findings on the Morocco incident was enough to convince Japan to allow the aircraft into the country. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sealed the deal with defense counterparts in Tokyo during the Pentagon chief's diplomatic swing through the Pacific region in September. 

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

The first group of Ospreys have 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.