The government announced Aug. 22 that U.S. Forces Japan will officially deploy five CV-22 Osprey transport aircraft at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo from Oct. 1.

The number of Ospreys at the Yokota base will be increased to 10 by around 2024.

This is the first time that the tilt-rotor aircraft, which has been plagued by accidents and problems, will be deployed to Japan outside Okinawa Prefecture.

There will inevitably be more drills involving Ospreys in mainland Japan.

The deployment of Ospreys to the U.S. Air Force base in Tokyo suburbs raises a wide range of issues not limited to its military implications that require multifaceted policy decisions and responses, including possible effects on local communities.

The Japanese government needs to end its hands-off attitude toward U.S. military operations in Japan and squarely address concerns among local residents.

Osprey MV-22s operated by the U.S. Marine Corps were deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, in 2012 despite strong opposition from people in the prefecture.

Currently, a fleet of 24 MV-22s is operated from the Futenma air base.

Safety concerns about the aircraft have been justified. At the end of 2016, an MV-22 crash-landed in shallow waters off Nago, a city in Okinawa.

The U.S. military temporarily grounded the MV-22 after the crash but Tokyo allowed the Marine Corps to resume Osprey flights less than a week after the accident, aggravating anger among local communities in the prefecture.

The CV-22 Osprey is designed mainly for special operations such as infiltration into enemy territory for rescuing hostages.

Since drills for special operations involving the CV-22s to be deployed to the Yokota base will include high-risk night and low-altitude flights, it is vital to take measures to secure the safety of local residents around the base and in expected exercise areas.

But the Japanese government apparently remains as reluctant as ever to tackle safety concerns related to U.S. bases in Japan.

The Defense Ministry has told The Asahi Shimbun that it has no information about when, where and what kind of drills involving the CV-22s at the Yokota base will be carried out because the aircraft is operated by the U.S. military.

This answer represents an outrageously irresponsible attitude on the part of the Japanese government.

The government has also been very half-hearted in dealing with the problem of noise pollution caused by the base. Residents around the base have filed many lawsuits to seek relief, but no real solution to the problem is in sight.

Ospreys are also known to cause low-frequency pollution, a fact that further heightens the urgency of the need for measures to tackle the noise problem.

In Germany and Italy, the U.S. military is required to gain approval by the host countries before conducting drills, according to a survey by the Okinawa prefectural government.

These countries apparently have radically different policies concerning U.S. military drills within their territory from Japan. The Japanese government has set no clear rules for the matter, enjoys no right to receive any detailed information about exercises from the U.S. military and shows no willingness to demand such information.

The U.S. military originally intended to deploy CV-22s to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, but changed the plan as the situation concerning the Futenma relocation project has become bitterly complicated.

It is doubtful, however, this change of the plan will help Okinawa’s burden of hosting so many U.S. military bases to be shared by the mainland.

The U.S. Air Force special operation unit in Japan is based at the Kadena base, which means the Ospreys to be deployed to the Yokota base are likely to fly to Okinawa frequently for drills.

At the root of the problem is the deeply flawed bilateral Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which grants various privileges to the U.S. forces in Japan.

Earlier this month, the National Governors’ Association called for radical reforms of the agreement, including the application of Japanese laws to the U.S. military and the establishment of Japanese local government’s authority to enter U.S. military facilities for investigations into crimes and accidents.

For far too long, the Japanese government has been too willing to acquiesce in anything the U.S. military does.

It is long overdue to review and reform the agreement to change fundamentally the one-sided relationship between the U.S. military and the Japanese government.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24