Having arrived in Japan, Ospreys are put on ice

The Osprey is on the ground in Japan. That's where it's going to stay for now.

Nature did not intend for an aircraft to be towed off a ship — it’s supposed to fly ashore under its own power.

Not so, however, with the MV-22 Osprey’s inauspicious debut in Japan, where a cargo vessel docked this week to unload a dozen of the big birds that will sit on the ground until this fall. That’s when American commanders will show Japanese officials the results of investigations that conclude the aircraft are safe, and their crews can at last fly them from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni to their fulltime homes down on Okinawa.

The Marine Corps recognized upfront that controversy follows the Osprey wherever it flies, but that it hopes its Japanese hosts can become converts just as the Iraqis and Afghans did — though they had less say in the matter.

Said the Corps:

Marines will prepare the aircraft for flight after its 5,000-mile journey aboard the civilian cargo ship Green Ridge. However, the MV-22 Ospreys will not conduct functional check flights until the results of safety investigations are presented to the Government of Japan and the safety of flight operations is confirmed. Following safety confirmation and functional check flights, the Ospreys will fly to their new home aboard MCAS Futenma.

Groups opposed to the MV-22 deployment in Japan have demonstrated in Okinawa and Iwakuni. Recognizing the concerns of Japanese citizens led U.S. and Japanese officials to ensure safety of flight operations is confirmed before Ospreys fly in Japan.

Deployment of the MV-22 Osprey to Japan marks a significant step forward in modernization of Marine Corps aircraft here in support of the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance. Throughout the Marine Corps, Ospreys have been replacing CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, which made their Marine Corps debut during the Vietnam era.

The gesture of keeping the Ospreys grounded is a little silly: The Pentagon has already as much as blamed this year’s two Osprey crashes on pilot error, and it wouldn’t have sent 12 aircraft to Japan if it were worried its investigations might conclude the fleet was unsafe. So why not just fly them now and skip all the nonsense?

In deference to the international political sensibilities, no doubt, and also because it’s possible Japan is one of these hundreds upon hundreds of potential foreign buyers we keep hearing about. With the deck of public perception already stacked so heavily against it, the V-22 needs to account for itself flawlessly in the eyes of Tokyo, so its crews and the Marines stationed in Japan will just have to keep waiting before they can finally use it.