Photo/Illutration Ospreys to be deployed at Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture (Provided by the Ground Self-Defense Force)

The Defense Ministry on March 26 deployed its first Osprey force for the Self-Defense Forces at their Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, on a "temporary" basis ahead of eventual stationing to Saga Airport in Saga Prefecture.

On the same day, missile launchers were deployed at Camp Miyakojima, Okinawa Prefecture.

Both actions are part of efforts to strengthen the defenses of southwestern islands against China's growing maritime presence in the region.

The Osprey deployment was bitterly opposed by local residents worried about the aircraft's safety record. Defense authorities also faced obstacles reaching an agreement with local governments.

The Defense Ministry said that a newly formed tactical airlift group with about 430 members is now in place at the No. 1 helicopter brigade at Camp Kisarazu. The flying corps’ No. 107 and 108 squadrons are now an Osprey force.

Two Ospreys will be deployed in June or later, and the number of ospreys will be increased to 17 by the end of March 2022. Ospreys have already been deployed at U.S. military bases in Japan, but this is the first time for the SDF to use them.

Concerns have been raised about the Osprey's safety track record in view of a string of accidents.

After the five-year temporary deployment in Kisarazu, the Ospreys will be relocated to Saga Airport in Saga Prefecture, where it was initially envisaged they would be based.

The planned deployment of Ospreys in Saga met fierce opposition from local landowners, which meant that plans to build related facilities got bogged down.

The Ospreys will form a key component of an amphibious rapid deployment brigade established two years ago for remote defense that will transport the troops from Camp Ainoura in Nagasaki Prefecture to the Southwest Islands, a long string of islands stretching between Kyushu region and Taiwan, in case of crisis.

Due to the long distance between Camp Ainoura and Camp Kisarazu, some SDF officers questioned whether a quick response could be relied upon in a time of emergency.

Stationing missile launchers on Miyakojima island and setting up an ammunition depot also got delayed due to opposition from local landowners. As a result, the launchers were installed first.

In spring 2019, the ammunition at the camp on Miyakojima was removed from the island due to resistance from local residents. The depot is expected to be fully built by the end of fiscal 2020.