In a joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at the Pentagon Monday afternoon, Defense Secretary confirmed that the Marines would land a second squadron of MV-22 Ospreys in the country this summer.
The move, Hagel said, would increase U.S. capabilities in the region at a time in which the U.S. was intentionally pivoting its military focus to the Asia-Pacific region.
Onodera added more details about the move.
“Secretary Hagel and I confirmed that government’s plans to land U.S. 12 MV-22s of the second squadron of MV-22 through MCAS Iwakuni this summer and then move them to MCAS Futenma,” he said.
The first squadron of Ospreys landed in Okinawa last October, amid protests from Japanese locals about the risks that the Corps’ prized tiltrotor aircraft could pose to the population. Prior to the squadron’s arrival, demonstrators blocked the gates of Futenma for days to decry the move.
While the Osprey had some very public and deadly crashes during early runs about a decade ago, Marine Corps officials now claim it is among the safer aircraft they fly, based on Class A mishaps per 100,000 flight hours.
The most recent incident involving the Osprey was a crash off of Morocco in April 2012 that killed two and severely injured two more. Marine investigators determined that the crash had been the result of pilot error, not the mechanics of the aircraft.
Marine officials in Japan have tried to make peace with locals by hosting family days in which Japanese civilians can come aboard the air station and view the Osprey inside and out.
But the political situation remains tense for the Osprey. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s office walked back comments from Air Force Secretary Michael Donley about the upcoming deployment of CV-22 Ospreys to Japan.
Hagel did not say Monday why now was an opportune time to add another squadron aboard Okinawa, or how it would be used.