The Japanese government has a duty to make maximum efforts to ensure the safety and security of people in Okinawa by finding answers to key questions related to a flurry of accidents and incidents involving U.S. military aircraft.

On Jan. 8, an AH-1 attack helicopter used by the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Okinawa made an emergency landing near a resort hotel in Yomitan, a village in the island prefecture.

The incident occurred just two days after a UH-1 utility helicopter, also operated by the U.S. Marine Corps, made a forced landing on a beach in the city of Uruma.

In December 2016, a MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft crashed into the sea off the coast of Nago, another city in Okinawa, and was wrecked.

In October last year, a CH-53E transport helicopter was engulfed in flames after crash-landing in the village of Higashi.

In December, an 8-kilogram metal window fell from a CH-53E helicopter onto the playground of an elementary school located close to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan.

What are the causes of these accidents and problems? Are there any really effective measures to prevent a recurrence?

The rash of accidents and mishaps, any of which could have led to a disaster causing civilian casualties, should be seen as a really extraordinary situation.

On Jan. 9, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera urged U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in a phone call to take “fundamental measures” to prevent such incidents including more rigorous inspections and maintenance efforts.

But that would not be enough.

What is particularly notable about the spate of accidents and troubles is the wide range of aircraft involved.

Experts have argued some structural problems caused by U.S. defense spending cuts are behind these incidents, such as a decline in the skill levels among American military pilots and increased aircraft maintenance deficiencies.

As the prefectural government has demanded, the administration should strongly call on the U.S. forces to suspend flight operations of all U.S. military aircraft for emergency safety checks and make investigations to identify and publish the causes of the accidents.

Also noteworthy is the fact that while all the aircraft involved belong to the Futenma air station, the incidents occurred in a wide range of areas within the prefecture.

This fact points to the grim reality that the planned relocation of the Futenma base to the Henoko district of Nago would not eliminate the security risk posed by U.S. military aircraft to the entire prefecture.

The importance of Japan’s security alliance with the United States is growing due to various regional factors including rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programs.

Even so, there is no justification for unilaterally imposing the related burdens and risks on people in Okinawa.

A serious accident involving U.S. military aircraft would undermine the foundation of the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

This concern should prompt both the Japanese government and the U.S. military to fulfill their responsibility to make more serious efforts to reduce the heavy security policy burden borne by Okinawa.

Above all, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should shed its reluctance to pay serious attention to the voices of people in Okinawa.

When Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga traveled to Tokyo late last year to ask the administration to take steps to prevent the recurrence of accidents, such as the window falling from a helicopter onto the elementary school, Abe didn’t meet with him.

The Abe administration’s responses to such accidents and troubles have followed a pattern of effectively accepting what the U.S. military has said about the incidents while making half-hearted protests and requests.

This behavioral pattern has contributed to perpetuating a cycle of accidents and problems involving U.S. military aircraft in Okinawa. This vicious cycle must be stopped immediately.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10