Press Conference

Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister Onodera(06:22-06:32 A.M. July 11, 2014(Japan time))

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 06:22-06:32 A.M. July 11, 2014(Japan time)
Place: 1st floor Garden Room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purposes only)
The original text is in Japanese.

1. Announcements
Today, I boarded a U.S. Marine Corps' MV-22 Osprey and flew in it for the first time to the Marine Corps Base Quantico. I was once again impressed by this aircraft for its outstanding stability and functionality. When the MOD requests the budget for next fiscal year at the end of next month, we are planning to allocate a budget to acquire tiltrotor aircraft like the Ospreys. I gained good insights about this aircraft today.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
I believe that the MOD is planning to acquire 17 Ospreys in the next five years according to the Medium Term Defense Program. How many Ospreys are you considering purchasing next fiscal year?

Minister:
We have not decided on the exact number to procure. Also, we are in the process of determining as soon as possible the type of tiltrotor aircraft to be obtained. We are aiming to make those decisions by the end of next month.

Question:
Could you elaborate on your impression of the Osprey you flew in today?

Minister:
We first flew in helicopter mode (vertical takeoff and landing mode) and then we switched to airplane mode (fixed-wing mode). The transition was just so smooth. In comparison with the CH-47, a large-sized helicopter which we regularly use, my impression of the Osprey was that it was quieter, had superb functionality and was excellent overall. In addition, it seemed that the control of the aircraft was straightforward based on my observation of the pilot in action.

Question:
The current issues concerning the Ospreys include the relocation of training sites to mainland Japan in an effort to mitigate the impact of military bases on Okinawa. How will you make use of today's experience in an attempt to promote the relocation?

Minister:
I talked today with Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps John Paxton at the Pentagon, and with Lieutenant General Kenneth Glueck at Quantico. In both talks, I explained our efforts to further advance the relocation of Osprey training to mainland Japan in order to mitigate the impact on Okinawa as much as possible. They both agreed to cooperate in our effort.

Question:
I believe that Quantico is also an education and training center for the Marines. What did you talk with Lieutenant General Glueck?

Minister:
Marine Corps Base Quantico serves as headquarters so to speak for the Marines. It provides educational programs, and research concerning various tasks is also carried out here. Lieutenant General Glueck took command during Operation Tomodachi in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. I am a Diet member from the disaster-affected area. Since then, I have had a friendly relationship with him. At the talk with him today, I thanked him for his dedication during the operation in Japan, and requested him to provide us with support hereafter in various aspects concerning the amphibious forces we are preparing to launch such as training, skills and equipment. He willingly accepted my request.

Question:
Is there a plan to send Japanese forces such as the Western Army Infantry Regiment, which is preparing to serve as an amphibious force, to Quantico?

Minister:
While the mission of Base Quantico is oriented toward research, development of technology, and education, we are aiming to carry out joint training with the U.S. forces in various field settings. However, we are very much interested in learning from the training guidelines of the U.S. Marines and their know-how about actual combat. So we would like to maintain close contact with them.

Question:
You mentioned the MOD's plan to request a budget to procure tiltrotor aircraft similar to the Ospreys. What is the significance of introducing them into Japan now, and what is the merit of doing so in terms of SDF operations?

Minister:
In consideration of the SDF's disaster relief operations, which are particularly important for certain municipalities, it is a critical fact that there are numerous remote islands in Japan, and many of them don't have a runway. Under such restricted conditions, tiltrotor aircraft such as the Ospreys have superior capability to carry out disaster relief operations and transport patients in a timely manner. In fact, when a deadly typhoon hit the Philippines last year, a number of Ospreys stationed at Okinawa's Futenma Air Station traveled to the Philippines for prompt disaster relief operations. In addition, tiltrotor aircraft are vital equipment for defending Japan's territory including outlying islands as we are preparing to quickly deploy SDF staff on those islands.

Question:
By the way, do you expect that tiltrotor aircraft would also be useful in joint operations?

Minister:
I think that those of you who flew in an Osprey today probably understand what impressed me about this aircraft. When the Osprey is in helicopter mode, it is capable of landing in a very narrow area of ground. And once it gains altitude and switches to fixed-wing mode, it is capable of flying a great distance at high speed. We think that these features are very desirable and the aircraft are expected to be useful in the kinds of operations we are aiming to carry out.

Question:
If you are planning to request a budget assuming deployment of the tiltrotor aircraft next fiscal year, you also need to train appropriate staff and pilots. How will you achieve that?

Minister:
We are planning to spend the next several years introducing the tiltrotor aircraft. In the meantime, we will develop well trained pilots.

Question:
May I confirm that the budget for next fiscal year you are planning to request is for the purchase of tiltrotor aircraft?

Minister:
We need to finalize our budgetary plan in a comprehensive approach. For example, after purchasing tiltrotor aircraft, we need to consider where to deploy them and prepare the deployment sites in addition to other preparations. In this aspect, we are considering requesting the U.S. side to provide relevant information including that for the maintenance of tiltrotor aircraft.

Question:
There seems to be persistent safety concerns about the Ospreys, which appeared once again due to the recent incident where a part of an aircraft fell during the flight. You actually flew in an Osprey today and confirmed its performance. But how will you approach the people who are concerned about the safety of the aircraft?

Minister:
The U.S. side has verified that past accidents involving the Ospreys were basically due to human errors, and no mechanical issues have been identified thus far. However, since safe operation is a prime issue, we will continue to demand that to the U.S. side. In addition, since Japan is also planning to acquire tiltrotor aircraft, we need to ensure safe operation of tiltrotor aircraft by the SDF.

Question:
In relation to the relocation of Osprey training, I heard to the effect that an Osprey will travel to Camp Fuji to transport personnel by way of Atsugi Air Base. What is the purpose of this action?

Minister:
We are not in the position to explain the purpose of this action. But the U.S. side notified us of its intention to transport personnel to Camp Fuji on July 15. On the way to transport the personnel to Camp Fuji, the U.S. side told us that the Osprey would first stop by Atsugi Air Base for refueling. Also, I was informed that a civil air show is due to be held, I believe, on July 20 at Okadama Airport in Hokkaido. And the U.S. side notified us of its intention to display its Osprey at the air show. Just like the first notification, the U.S. side told us to first stop at the U.S. Air Force Yokota Air Base for refueling on the way to the air show.

Question:
Is the U.S. side planning to carry out military training at Camp Fuji on a regular basis, or is it just a one-time transport of personnel there?

Minister:
Transport of personnel is what we have been notified to be the objective of this action by the U.S. side.

Question:
Although this question was asked earlier, please let me ask it again. Is the budget the MOD is planning to request for next fiscal year for purchasing tiltrotor aircraft?

Minister:
In this fiscal year, we have set aside a budget for selecting the type of tiltrotor aircraft to purchase, so we will make that decision first. Then, we are planning to determine the kinds of preparations and equipment necessary for the deployment by collecting proper information. After this process, we will finalize a budget for purchasing tiltrotor aircraft in the next fiscal year, which we will request at the end of next month.

Question:
Will the MOD request the said budget specifically to purchase all 17 aircraft?

Minister:
Since we still need to consider price issues and carry out negotiations with the vendor, a final decision will be made after these considerations.

Question:
I believe that the MOD acquired a budget this fiscal year to prepare facilities associated with the deployment of tiltrotor aircraft. For next fiscal year, will the MOD continue to request a budget for the same purpose?

Minister:
It is necessary to decide what kinds of deployment facilities need to be prepared in a concurrent manner.

(End)

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