Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister Eto(09:39-09:55 A.M. October 24, 2014)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:39-09:55 A.M. October 24, 2014
Place: Press 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
None.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
Governor of Saga Prefecture Yasushi Furukawa stated at the press conference on the 22nd to the effect that the Saga Prefecture side will make a final decision during the next fiscal year on the plan to deploy tilt-rotor aircraft at Saga Airport. Could you tell us your thoughts on his statement and on the prospects of negotiations with the local community?

Minister:
After assessing various SDF airfields and civilian airports mainly in Kyushu, we concluded that Saga Airport is the best facility available to deploy the GSDF's tilt-rotor aircraft from the viewpoint of improving the effectiveness of unit operations, strengthening the cooperation between Japan and the United States, acquiring sufficient land area for deploying tilt-rotor aircraft, and easing the impact of the currently operating SDF airfield on the surrounding area where urbanization is progressing. We are at present providing an explanation to the local officials in the effort to gain the approval of the local community.
As the questioner just mentioned, Governor Furukawa in fact stated at the press conference on the 22nd to the effect that Saga Prefecture is expecting to make the final decision during the next fiscal year in reference to our Osprey deployment plan. As the MOD, we are hoping to execute the deployment of the GSDF tilt-rotor aircraft at Saga Airport as soon as possible without undermining the airport's development and function as a civilian facility. Accordingly, we will strive to dispel the concerns of the local people such as noise and safety issues by continuing to provide thorough explanations about how we deal with such matter.

Question:
I believe that the governor specifically stated that the final decision would be made next fall. How will this timing affect the MOD's deployment plan?

Minister:
I am not aware that the governor specifically mentioned next fall. Anyway, we will do our best and provide thorough explanations to gain the acceptance of the prefecture as soon as possible.

Question:
Given that the MOD has included the expenditure necessary to execute its deployment plan in the defense budget requested for the next fiscal year, I imagine that the MOD is indeed hoping that Saga Prefecture will draw a definitive decision this year. Is that correct?

Minister:
It is true that the MOD has requested the budget on the assumption that we will start deploying tilt-rotor aircraft from fiscal 2019. To avoid delay in our deployment plan, we have already requested the necessary budget. In any case, as of now, we are considering Saga Airport as the most ideal tilt-rotor aircraft deployment site. To start preparing the facility, we will continue our efforts in gaining the approval of the local municipalities by courteously communicating with them. We are aiming to obtain their approval as early as possible.

Question:
When I asked the press secretary a question on Monday, he told me that the AW609 manufactured by AgustaWestland NV is one of candidate models for tilt-rotor aircraft to be acquired from the operational perspective. However, the gross weight of the Osprey is 24 tons whereas that of the AW609 is 7.62 tons, so the difference between the two is about three-fold. In addition, the payload of the Osprey is 9 tons while that of the AW609 is 2.5 tons, and the Osprey is capable of carrying 24 fully-equipped troops while the AW609 can transport 6 to 9 such troops. Furthermore, the AW609 is a civilian aircraft to begin with, and therefore, it is not assumed for extremely rough military use. So, I believe that the AW609, which airlifts a load and is not even equipped with a ramp door, belongs to a totally different class of aircraft from the Osprey. Do you think that the AW609 is an adequate candidate for tilt-rotor aircraft to be acquired?

Minister:
During the process of acquiring tilt-rotor aircraft, we must be sure to undergo a fair bidding procedure. So, we called for proposals, and we are currently evaluating the contents of submitted proposals. While the MV-22 and AW609 are certainly much different models in terms of specifications, at the MOD, our initial approach was to thoroughly evaluate all the proposals submitted including those recommending the AW609. However, I was informed that all the proposals submitted as of now concern the MV-22 only. So, we are currently evaluating those proposals and are aiming to decide which tilt-rotor aircraft model to acquire during this year. In any case, we took the approach to openly call for proposals to ensure fair bidding, even though this procedure might make us consider aircraft with diverse specifications.

Question:
Minister Eto, it seems to me that a comparison of these two aircraft models is like comparing a dump truck to a light pickup truck in purchasing equipment to carry gravel. Even if these two models are both classified as tilt-rotor aircraft, their purposes of use are totally different. This is like, to use a different analogy, comparing a human to a chicken on the basis of having a pair of legs. I feel that the comparison is inappropriate and illogical. Since the Osprey is the only tilt-rotor aircraft model available for military use to begin with, why didn't you take the approach to focus on that model from the beginning?

Minister:
From the perspective of fair bidding, I believe that the selection process should be inclusive and open. If we were to focus on military aircraft only, the approach you suggested may be valid. However, another option is to consider diverse usage of the aircraft from a range of perspectives. I believe that it is vital to carry out discussion on various types of tilt-rotor aircraft available from varying perspectives.

Question:
From the operational viewpoint, the GSDF has already come up with certain operational scenarios in terms of flight range and payload. It seems inconceivable for me to include the AW609 as an option from this viewpoint.

Minister:
I cannot tell you if that option is conceivable or not since I am not an expert in military affairs. However, as I have been pointing out, I believe in a fair and just selection procedure. In line with this philosophy, we accepted proposals from other countries as well. And we are currently evaluating the submitted proposals carefully to make a selection. I believe that this is the proper procedure.

Question:
Minister Eto, is there a chance that the series of statements made by the governor of Saga Prefecture will have any sort of adverse impact on the MOD's Osprey deployment plan?

Minister:
At present, we intend to stay with our deployment plan. And to advance the plan, we must continue the efforts to gain the approval of the local community by providing sincere and consistent explanations to them. I am aware of various views such as those expressed by relevant municipalities and fishery groups. It is important for us to communicate with these different parties. We are determined to make this kind of effort in a tireless manner.

Question:
You repeatedly speak of making efforts. But are you intending to have a talk with the governor in person, or give an explanation to him personally?

Minister:
The parliamentary senior vice-minister of defense has been playing the role of communicating with the governor since the preceding Cabinet was in power and the last defense minister was in office. Currently, Parliamentary Senior Vice Defense Minister Akira Sato is taking charge of that role. If possible, I would also like to have a talk with the governor in person. At present, I have the obligation to attend the ongoing Diet session, but I will try to adjust my schedule to meet the governor.

Question:
At the meeting of the House of Councillors Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the deliberation was suspended when the opposition parties pointed out that Chairperson Satsuki Katayama had the material prepared for the ministers to answer questions in the Diet deliberation in hand when she was leading the proceedings. What are your thoughts on this behavior of Ms. Katayama?

Minister:
I would like to refrain from answering that specific question. However, I also have been appointed as a committee chair before, and it is normally inappropriate for a chairperson to possess such a material during the committee meeting. I can only guess that Chairperson Katayama obtained the material perhaps for self-learning purposes. I am not certain of further details.

Question:
What about the fact that the MOD, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cabinet Secretariat carelessly provided the material to Chairperson Katayama at her request?

Minister:
I cannot think of any excuse for that. I must say that improper actions probably contributed to this consequence.

Question:
What about the aspect that the series of actions Chairperson Katayama took obstructed the proceedings of the committee?

Minister:
I would like to refrain from answering the question concerning the legislative body, given that I am currently representing the administrative body. However, I hope that the legislative body will properly deal with this issue.

Question:
Considering the fact that the MOD improperly provided the material to Chairperson Katayama, are you planning to give a warning or discipline to your staff?

Minister:
I will decide on whether to take such actions after considering further consequences and other issues. However, I was told that both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the MOD provided the materials at the request of the committee members without knowing their intended use of the materials. So, I think that the legislative body should make proper decisions concerning its own members' actions.

Question:
When the MOD makes decisions on the procurement of defense equipment such as Ospreys, it seems to me that the MOD does not inform its operational plan to the taxpayers nor are its decisions well discussed in a Diet session. I feel that Japan is rather behind when it comes to information disclosure to the public compared to other democratic nations based on my experience of collecting news materials on foreign countries. Minister Eto, do you not view this situation as a problem?

Minister:
Since I don't know enough about the information disclosure situation in other countries, I would like to study that subject in detail before answering that question.

Question:
The opposition parties are still unconvinced about the validity of the correction you made on the income and expenditure report on political funds. In fact, Secretary General of the Democratic Party Yukio Edano implied in his statement that you should resign if you will not fulfill your accountability. Do you think that you have already given a sufficient explanation to the Japanese people and the opposition parties?

Minister:
I have explained this at a previous press conference, but when I found that I might be appointed to the post of the defense minister, I checked the income and expenditure report for errors. Since I did find errors, I immediately corrected them. Then, I was appointed to the defense minister.
During this process, I acknowledged that there were mistakes and I corrected them in compliance with the law. So, I explained these steps I took to the concerned parties, but they have not accepted my explanation and raised an objection. Raising an objection might be a little too strong an expression, but they in fact have not been totally convinced. I will continue to do what I can do, which is to provide sound explanations, until I convince those who still have doubt over my action.

(End)

* The following correction was made on October 24 based on the follow-up comment by the defense minister. In the defense minister's final comment at the press conference held on October 24, the following correction was made to the part of his statement, "but they have not accepted my explanation and raised an objection" by replacing it with the phrase, "but they have not been totally convinced"

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