Japanese Defence minister Satoshi Morimoto said he will meet with his US counterpart Leon Panetta on Friday in Washington to discuss the planned deployment of a controversial US military aircraft.
Morimoto was expected to fly in an MV-22 Osprey aircraft during his three-day trip, as Washington moves to deploy it to US bases in Japan amid strong local opposition over safety concerns following crashes overseas.
“It is difficult to explain to the Japanese people about the aircraft that I have never flown in,” Morimoto told reporters in Tokyo before departing for the United States.
“I want to go aboard it and see how the aircraft operates. I had spent a lot of time in a fighter jet unit, so I think I can understand, to a certain extent, things like noise and safety,” he added.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft with rotors that allow it to take off like a helicopter and engines that can tilt forward, enabling it to fly like an aeroplane at greater speed than a chopper.
The aircraft was plagued with problems in its early years in the 1990s, but US officials say the technical glitches have been cleared up and the US Marine Corps says it has proven invaluable.
But a US Air Force CV-22 Osprey crashed in Florida in June, injuring all five crew members. US officials said the accident was not due to a mechanical problem.
In April, an MV-22 Osprey – the variant that arrived in Japan – crashed in Morocco, killing two Marines.
The delivery of a dozen Osprey in Japan last month stoked protests and added to an already growing unease over the US military’s 47,000-troop presence in the country.