The Ground Self-Defense Force will finally give birth to its own "marine" brigade March 27 with the unit ordered to defend Japan's southern outlying islands, including a group of islets claimed by Tokyo and Beijing.
This could prove difficult, however, for the new amphibious rapid deployment brigade as it appears it is marooned right from the start.
The central government has failed to secure a base for a fleet of Ospreys, which are supposed to transport the marines to any potential island battlefield.
The purchase of 17 Ospreys from the United States was decided for the new amphibious brigade. The delivery of the aircraft is expected to begin in fiscal 2018.
The Japanese marines will be based in the GSDF’s Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. Saga Airport, which sits on reclaimed land in Ariake Bay, is a 60-kilometer hop to the east from Sasebo. It is believed Saga Airport is at the top of the candidate list to house the controversial tilt-rotor transport aircraft.
A new camp for the amphibious troops was expected to be built next to the airport in fiscal 2019, but construction work has yet to begin as local fishermen who own land on the planned site have yet to agree to a sale.
When the central government first approached the Saga prefectural government about the plan, Governor Yoshinori Yamaguchi was cooperative.
However, the prefectural government grew concerned and cautious about playing host to the Osprey after a series of accidents involving the U.S. military’s aircraft inside and outside Japan over the past few years, including a fatal crash off Australia.
In Japan, the U.S. military’s Osprey is deployed only at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, but the aircraft flies all over Japan and beyond for training.
After each Osprey accident, the prefectural government pressed the central government to demand additional safety measures for the aircraft.
The final straw that seemed to sway the prefectural government from the idea was the fatal crash of a GSDF AH-64D attack helicopter into a private home in Kanzaki in the prefecture in February while on a test flight.
No residents of the destroyed home or local people were killed, but the chopper’s two crew members died in the accident.
Now the Saga plan is sinking fast with local fishermen staunchly opposed to it. (end of excerpt)
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