Photo/IllutrationAn Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft at Saga Airport on Nov. 8, 2016 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

SAGA--The governor of Saga Prefecture accepted a plan by the Defense Ministry to deploy U.S. Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft used by the Ground Self-Defense Force to Saga Airport, a commercial facility.

Under the deal announced Aug. 24, the central government will pay the southwestern prefecture 500 million yen ($4.5 million) a year in landing fees for a total of 10 billion yen over 20 years.

The funds will go into a fund to support the local fishing industry in the Ariake Sea.

The deployment is intended to strengthen Japan's ability to defend the remote Nansei island chain located between the main Kyushu island and Taiwan.

The Defense Ministry plans to purchase 17 Ospreys from the United States by fiscal 2021.

No decision has been made on when the deployment will start, or even if it will start on schedule.

The ministry also plans to construct a new camp adjacent to Saga Airport, which has met with strong opposition from the landowner fishermen. They have expressed concerns about the aircraft's safety record following a spate of accidents.

The ministry and the prefectural government also agreed to establish a council with local fishery cooperative associations to discuss anticipated environmental and compensation issues that will be caused by the deployment.

A key objective will be to keep China's maritime advances in the western Pacific Ocean in check.

As a precaution against the possible invasion of outlying islands, the ministry set up an amphibious unit in the GSDF’s Ainoura Camp in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, in March this year.

Saga Airport is close to Ainoura Camp. Ospreys are expected to transport members of the unit.

The ministry decided to purchase Ospreys for the GSDF in December 2013. In July 2014, the ministry approached the Saga prefectural government about agreeing to the deployment to Saga Airport.

However, negotiations bogged down over safety fears expressed by local residents about repeated accidents involving Ospreys.