Tens of thousands of people rallied on Sunday in Okinawa to protest plans to deploy the MV-22 Osprey, the trouble-plagued tilt-rotor aircraft, at the United States Marine Corps base in the city of Ginowan. The Marines want to bring in 24 Ospreys to replace a fleet of Vietnam-era helicopters, but Okinawans, turning out in one of the largest anti-American protests in years, are bristling.
Connect With Us on Twitter For Op-Ed, follow @nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow @andyrNYT. .The Osprey has a terrible reputation as a prime example of a hugely expensive, dubiously useful weapons systems. Okinawans don’t care about the misspent money. They worry that the plane is prone to crashing. To many residents, who have borne the heavy burden of the American military presence in Japan, deploying the Osprey on the island is rubbing salt into an old wound.
The first dozen Ospreys to reach Japan have been grounded while the Japanese government reviews the plane’s safety record. Marine officials insist that the Osprey’s notorious defects have been worked out and that it is safe and reliable. But, in April, an Osprey crashed in Morocco, killing two Marines. Another crashed in Florida in June. Though officials blame pilot error for the accidents, that has hardly eased local fears in densely crowded Okinawa, which has seen hundreds of crashes and emergency landings of military jets and helicopters since the 1950s, several of them fatal.
The anger on Sunday was not just about two dozen planes. It reflects frustration over islanders’ long-stymied efforts to get the Marines entirely out of Okinawa. Japan and the United States struck a deal in 2006 to close Futenma, move several thousand Marines off the island and shift others to a new base on Okinawa’s less-populated northeast coast. But many Okinawans saw this agreement as inadequate, and it went nowhere. A deal reached in April to move 9,000 Marines has also been stalled.