U.S. military support for Kumamoto: Misguided Osprey criticism
The U.S. air transport support began for the Kumamoto Earthquake disaster areas where aftershocks continue. In the disaster areas suffering severe disruption of transportation network, local government officials, police, firefighters, the Self Defense Forces and volunteers continue search and rescue operations, recovery activities and evacuee support. Under such emergency situation caused by sudden major disasters, support from a foreign country is greatly appreciated. However, it is incomprehensible that some criticize the U.S. forces from ideological standpoints despite the fact that those forces are assisting Japanese disaster victims experiencing hardships.
Air shipment of supplies to Minami-Aso
As the main shock of the Kumamoto Earthquake on April 16 caused damages in wider area, the Japanese government announced acceptance of the U.S. forces’ air transport support on April 17. The U.S. Marine Corps in Japan was assigned to the mission. On April 18, MV22 Ospreys, vertical takeoff and landing transport aircraft belonging to Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture were dispatched to Mashiki in Kumamoto Prefecture via Iwakuni Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The Osprey aircraft transported supplies from JGSDF Vice-Camp Takayubaru to Hakusui Sports Park in Minami-Aso.
On April 19, the Osprey aircraft landed on the Maritime Self-Defense Force escort ship Hyuga carrying helicopters to load supplies and carried them to Minami-Aso. Such collaboration would not have been possible without routine joint trainings between the U.S. forces and the Self-Defense Forces and mutual trust nurtured by such trainings. It is natural that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani expressed gratitude to the United States on behalf of the Japanese government. Minami-Aso Village Chief Toshiya Nagano shook hands with Osprey pilots and thanked them.
However, the Asahi Shimbun, Ryukyu Shinpo, Okinawa Times and local newspapers subscribing to Kyodo News Service which opposed to the Osprey aircraft deployment due to alleged high risk of accidents are criticizing air transport support by the aircraft. Among opposition parties, Sohei Nihi, Japanese Communist Party member of the House of Councilors, argued about danger of the aircraft during the House of Councilors Audit Committee session on April 18. Some members of the Democratic Party (Minshinto) which collaborate with the Japanese Communist Party expressed similar criticism.
The accident rate of the Osprey aircraft at the beginning of their deployment in Japan in 2012 was 1.12 percent. That accident rate is lower than 1.14 percent accident rate of helicopters CH46E that had been already deployed. The Osprey’s safety is pretty high. The Osprey’s velocity and flight range are superior to CH46E, and those capabilities are demonstrated in the current transportation support.
Criticism of the use of the Osprey aircraft for humanitarian support to deliver relief supplies to earthquake disaster victims is prominently voiced by the Japanese Communist Party opposed to the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the U.S. Forces in Japan and the Self-Defense Forces, some other opposition parties such as the Democratic Party working with the JCP to abolish security legislations, and some media which propagated anti-Security Treaty opinions and currently opposing to security legislations.
When the Democratic Party of Japan was in power, Japan suffered the Great East Japan Earthquake and the U.S. forces initiated Operation Tomodachi. The U.S. forces have track record of quickly restoring devastated Sendai Airport. The Democratic Party is working with the JCP in the House of Councilors election and other national elections, but it remains uncertain that whether they can bring forth a policy to cooperate with the U.S. forces to cope with a large-scale disaster. Their criticism of the Osprey aircraft puts effectiveness of both parties’ countermeasures against disasters.
Reconfirmation of significance of the U.S.-Japan alliance
The U.S. forces’ functionality for emergency countermeasures against large-scale disasters is the best in the world. Japan is rather fortunate to easily enjoy benefits which such functionality brings. Why not think this way? Many major disasters are occurring in various countries of the world, and the U.S. forces cannot afford to cope with all of them. The Self-Defense Forces’ contribution in this respect is something to be proud of, and the significance of the U.S.-Japan alliance deserves to be recognized.