Two Bell Boeing MV-22B Block C Ospreys were delivered to Japan on May 8 to be prepared for hand-over to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF). They arrived by sea and were offloaded at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Iwakuni. The waterfront base is the main center of Marine fixed-wing airpower in Japan, hosting squadrons of F-35Bs, F/A-18Ds, and KC-130Js.
Japan’s first Ospreys (serial numbers 91701 and 91705) were delivered from the U.S. in fully-assembled state, albeit with wings and rotors stowed, and were towed on their undercarriage from the cargo deck of the transporter vessel. Once ashore, Marine Corps personnel removed the protective coating and began checking and testing the aircraft before they fly to their intended JGSDF base. The process is expected to take longer than would be normal due to precautions imposed by the Covid-19 crisis.
Ultimately the Ospreys are to operate from a new base being built at Saga airport on Kyushu island, but in the meantime, they will operate from Kisarazu, located on the eastern shore of Tokyo Bay. The base is currently home to a large Japanese army rotary-wing presence, including Kawasaki OH-1 scouts, Subaru-Bell AH-1S gunships, and Boeing CH-47J/JA transports.
Japan first announced its intentions to acquire the Osprey in November 2014, allocating funds for the purchase of the initial five of a planned 17-tiltrotor fleet in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget. A Foreign Military Sales (FMS) order was placed with the U.S. government (handled by Naval Air Systems Command) in July 2015, with deliveries of the first five to be completed during 2018.
The first JGSDF Osprey was rolled out from Bell’s facility in Arlington, Texas, on August 24, 2017, but local opposition to the new base at Saga—focused mainly on public perceptions of the Osprey’s safety record—resulted in complicated negotiations that delayed the basing plan. As a consequence, the JGSDF decided in the fall of 2018 to delay deliveries of the first aircraft until now.
In the meantime, JGSDF crews began training with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Osprey training squadron, VMMT-204, at McCutcheon Field, MCAS New River in North Carolina. The first aircrew member—a crew chief—completed training in April 2017. Since then the Japanese contingent at New River has begun operating its own aircraft, working closely with VMMT-204 to attain operational proficiency.
Japan plans to operate the 17 Ospreys in the airmobile assault role. They may not all be of the MV-22B variant, as used by the Marines Corps and which has been based at MCAS Futenma in Okinawa since 2012. In March 2019 the Japanese government revealed plans to acquire a number of the CV-22B version, the same as that used for special operations and combat search and rescue work by the U.S. Air Force.
If ordered, the CV-22Bs would be based alongside the MV-22s and used in a similar fashion to their USAF counterparts. The addition of terrain-following radar makes them well-suited for covert low-level operations by night. This initiative might also see them deployed overseas for rescue missions as part of international efforts, as well as being used for special forces work to protect Japan’s remote islands.