Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister(11:16-11:38 A.M., August 17, 2012)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date 11:16-11:38 A.M., August 17, 2012
Place: Conference Room, Ministry of Defense (MOD)
(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

As you may already know, 13 members from the SDF participated in the London Olympics , and as we announced beforehand, Captain Obara won the gold medal in women’s wrestling, Second Lieutenant Yonemitsu won the gold medal in men’s freestyle wrestling, First Lieutenant Yumoto won the bronze medal in men’s freestyle wrestling, and Second Lieutenant Shimizu won the bronze medal in men’s bantamweight boxing. Thus, there were 4 members who won a medal. In addition, Lieutenant Junior Grade Takakuwa came in sixth place in the 200 meters individual medley. This was an achievement that had not been seen for 28 years since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and has shown to the world the physical training prowess of the Self-Defense personnel. This has been the most wonderful and encouraging achievement for all the SDF personnel that have been supporting them, and I hope that this will be put to good use for the SDF. I would like to add that at around noontime on August 22, which will be next Wednesday, we will have the members who won the medals gather in Tokyo to report on their return and for an informal meeting, and we are moving on with plans to present an award to the members that have won the gold medal.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
I think there was an explanation that Parliamentary Vice-Minister Jinpu and the analysis/evaluation team received in the U.S. Did you receive any reports or such on this since then? If so, what kind of things were included in the details?

Minister:
Parliamentary Vice-Minister Jinpu returned rather late last night, and he will be coming to his office in the latter part of this afternoon, so I hope to receive a direct report from him then. Therefore, I have not received this directly yet. Before receiving the report on the accident investigation together with the analysis team in Washington, D.C., Parliamentary Vice-Minister Jinpu had experienced sitting directly side-by-side with the Self-Defense official pilot in receiving the actual simulation test in the autorotation simulator at Marine Corps Air Station New River, and he also received a briefing on this before returning home, so I would like to hear about how this went as well. From what I have heard so far over the phone and such, it seems that having actually experienced it in the simulator, the rate of descent in descending from a fairly high altitude using autorotation was quite high compared to other aircraft, but the two were able to experience the autorotation function working in making a safe landing. I would very much like to hear about the specific functions when they have returned, but I have received reports that they have returned having actually experienced the autorotation function working in order for the Osprey. Regarding the accident that occurred at Morocco on April 11, we have indeed received the report on the investigation results in Washington. The analysis team will probably be returning in the evening today, so I will be receiving a report on Monday. I have not yet confirmed if the U.S. side already released the full text for this, but as far as what I have seen in the press reports, it seems that an announcement of some sort has been made in Washington, or an outline has been released. In any case, it is evident that this has been released to the media in some way. As far as what we have seen from said press reports and the results given in what one may say is the summary of the overall report that we have received, it gives the picture that was reported from the onset in various press reports where this Osprey had been making three trips in loading and unloading the Marines between the amphibious assault ship and the training area. After flying the Marines from the amphibious assault ship to the training area -- the airfield in Morocco -- and after unloading them there, the aircraft lifted off to make its ascent, and when it had conducted a 180-degree turn in hovering mode the aircraft received some tailwind from its rear side, and at the same time the co-pilot had conducted a maneuver in pushing down the nacelle at the final stage of the turn, which resulted in the point of gravity of the aircraft moving towards its front side, and the aircraft crashed to the ground in a forward-leaning position. Otherwise, the accident occurred as a result of either conducting maneuvers during said maneuver that were not in line with the procedures given within the manual that had been approved by the U.S. Forces, or conducting an act that should have been avoided. Therefore, an explanation on any problems with the structure in the airframe or in maintenance was not given in the overall report. Regarding the details, we will first receive the report from the team that received the explanation directly and conducted the Q&A session after they have returned, and we will then work on drawing up an analysis/evaluation report that we will use to explain the concluding result to everyone, and then give an explanation to everyone. That will be the overall process that we will be proceeding with.

Question:
Concerning the explanation given by the U.S. side, it seems that the U.S. side has come to a conclusion that it was caused by human error. Although the final result has yet to come out, from what you have heard on the outlines and summaries do you also see that there is a high possibility that it was caused by human error?

Minister:
From what I see of the overall situation, it does seem to point to the fact that it was caused by human error, or through the misconduct of the person who was controlling this. The maneuver was certainly not something that was specified in the manual, and the speed of the Osprey and the angle that the nacelle was supposed to have been converged at was outside the range that was specified in the manual, and it was caused by the failure to avoid committing an act that was supposed to have been avoided. Thus, from the successive explanations that I have received so far, there has been no evidence or signs of any failures in the airframe itself, so I feel that there is a strong possibility that it was caused due to the misconduct by the co-pilot that had made the maneuver. That is my understanding on this.

Question:
You mentioned your understanding in the previous question. In that case, in view of conducting an independent analysis investigation in the future, do you feel for now that this current report actually proves that the Osprey is safe or that it guarantees its safety?

Minister:
Not exactly. As you may know, there are some members within the analysis team that had not received this briefing. Therefore, the primary issue will be to hear the opinions of such experts and to perform a re-analysis on what this analysis report means when seen from our point of view. Moreover, with regard to the accident in Florida, we will now be receiving a briefing on the investigation results, so we would like to conduct the discussion on flight safety after said two elements have been fully analyzed.

Question:
Did the U.S. side mention anything about recurrence prevention measures for this time?

Minister:
I have only heard about the summary on the cause of the accident, and I hope to hear on what kind of measures have been implemented after receiving the report from the analysis team when they have returned.

Question:
When you went to the Prime Minister’s Office today, did you receive any instructions or comments concerning the Senkakus from the Prime Minister?

Minister:
No, I didn’t. Not in the cabinet meeting.

Question:
In the informal cabinet meeting then?

Minister:
Informal cabinet meeting? No. There was some kind of meeting of related Ministers after that, and I wasn’t included in it. That was probably scheduled to be conducted after the cabinet meeting, and I believe that no mention was given in that meeting either. Anyway, there was absolutely nothing on this.

Question:
Recently, the situation surrounding Japan has been rather severe. As you may know, we have had diplomatic issues with the ROK, China and also with Russia in July over the Northern Territories. Against this backdrop, do you feel that, for example, the somewhat shaky Japan-U.S. relationship stemming from issues such as Futenma and the Osprey are having an effect on this, or that they are perceiving a weakness in our domestic politics as seen from the political situation where the Prime Minister is changing on a yearly basis? What is your thinking on this?

Minister:
I think each country has its own specific backgrounds. On how we should evaluate this in general, I would like to refrain from making assumptions on the motives of each specific countries.

Question:
Do you feel that Japan has nothing to do in particular as a source?

Minister:
Whether or not Japan is the cause of things, I would like to refrain from making assumptions on the various activities conducted by each country and on what motivation is behind such course of action.

Question:
Coming back to the issue on the Osprey, I think that the analysis/evaluation team in Japan will now be working on conducting an independent confirmation on the safety of the aircraft. What kind of investigations and analysis will they be specifically conducting here? For example, I think it is going to be difficult to conduct an interview with the crew, so what specific things can be done?

Minister:
What do you mean by that?

Question:
In short, can you tell us what kind of work the analysis/evaluation team will be doing, and how they are going to independently confirm its safety.

Minister:
There are two things. First, not everyone on the analysis team has gone (to the U.S.) and received the accident investigation results from the U.S. side. The people who had been there had also been asking questions and received various answers in addition to the report document, so this will all be brought back, and we will then consider how to conduct an independent scientific analysis of the investigation results. As I have mentioned, we have experts in Japan precisely for this reason, so we will be doing this while listening to the advice of said experts. Then, when considering flight safety, it is not just about finding out the cause, but also includes how flight safety can be ensured when it is actually being operated. Various consultations have already started on this within the bilateral security committee in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so we are hoping to come up with some kind of framework to ensure the flight safety of the Osprey when it is being operated in Japan through these consultations. We would like to confirm its flight safety through utilizing these two measures.

Question:
This question is related to what you mentioned just now. So, your team has now received the briefing for the investigation, and I believe that the investigation results given by the U.S. side have been concluded based on accumulated evidence. In that case, has the Japan side been provided with said evidence? Without it, pretty much all they will be doing is simply analyzing the concluded results.

Minister:
The primary responsibility of the investigation lies with the aircraft accident team or board that has been set up independently by both the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force, respectively, which in turn has the responsibility to report to the Commander of their Major Command. Therefore, there was a need to conduct a direct hearing on the content of the overall investigation results as well as the process and such involved in conducting said investigation, and that was why we dispatched the analysis team. I think there are going to be certain limits on being able to gain access to the actual items itself, since they are the property of the U.S., and in the case in Florida, it was an accident that occurred on U.S. soil, so there are going to be certain restrictions in terms of jurisdiction on what Japan can do, such as in being able to go to the scene of the accident to see the actual airframe and its equipment. Thus, the fact that the U.S. is providing this level of meticulous explanation to a foreign country on this kind of accident can be said to be nothing short of exceptional based on my past experiences. I understand this to be a sign that the U.S. is disclosing this information with the understanding of the perceived grave effects these two accidents would have on Japan.

Question:
Yesterday, you visited the Kamiseya Communications Station (Naval Support Facility Kamiseya) and Fukaya Communication Site (Naval Transmitter Station Totsuka) and mentioned that, “I would like to actually see it and to reflect this in the future Japan-U.S. negotiations.” Can you give us your impression on having actually seen it, and on your thoughts on how you intend to conduct the negotiations with the U.S. in the future?

Minister:
As you may know, an agreement has been reached in the bilateral security committee in 2004 for the two communication posts to be returned to Japan. During the various interactions between Japan and the U.S., the two communications posts in Kamiseya and Fukaya that have been mentioned were to be returned to Japan according to the construction process in constructing the residential housing at Ikego, so the Mayor and the Vice-Mayor and others were also present at the two sites as well. Regarding the residential housing at Ikego, the U.S., Japan and Yokohama City are working together in an effort to ultimately realize the construction plan, so I asked for the cooperation of Yokohama City on this, since the more progress we make in this process will in turn expedite the return of the two communications posts, which has been agreed between Japan and the U.S. The Mayor had also gave a request that, “The lands here are both highly important and cover a wide area, so please realize their early return” which I have duly accepted.

Question:
This is something that has come up in questions in previous press conferences. Regarding the future relationship with the Osprey, its actual flight is expected to occur after both Japan and the U.S. have confirmed its safety. In such a case, what would be your position on the agreement with the local communities?

Minister:
With regard to the people in the local communities, I would like to do what I can to listen to their opinions, and to make efforts in taking up as many of the various requests that they have before finalizing the confirmation of flight safety.

Question:
In your previous comment concerning the autorotation in the simulator, you mentioned that, “The rate of descent of the Osprey is higher than that of other aircraft” or that it was “different.” However, I think there is a traffic pattern in place around Futenma and that the altitude for helicopters to return to base through autorotation has been set at 330 meters. If the Osprey is going to be deployed, do you think that this altitude should be revised for safety control purposes?

Minister:
As I mentioned beforehand, the consultations in the bilateral security committee have already begun, and I feel that what you mentioned is going to be one of the important themes to be consulted in said committee.

(End)

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