US military aircraft emergencies & incidents over Japan doubled in 2017

US military aircraft emergencies & incidents over Japan doubled in 2017
Incidents involving US military aircraft over Japan more than doubled in 2017, Tokyo has announced, challenging Washington’s claim that due to its “safety first” policy the number of accidents fell last year compared to 2016.

A survey conducted by the Japanese Defense Ministry found that 25 American helicopters and fixed-wing military aircraft had suffered some sort of a mishap in 2017 that forced the US hardware to conduct emergency landings. Twenty-three of the incidents involving US armed forces aircraft stationed in Japan occurred on Japanese territory, while the other two cases occurred just outside the country. At least fourteen of the incidents occurred on Okinawa, whose residents have repeatedly staged mass protests against US military aircraft flying over local schools, endangering youngsters.

The survey also said the number of US-involved accidents more than doubled on the previous year, during which just 11 such cases were registered. “Based on the information we have at hand, they’re increasing,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Monday after his ministry published its report.

Onodera said the Defense Ministry decided to assess the number and severity of US-involved accidents after he was told by US Pacific Command chief Adm Harry Harris earlier in the month that the number of emergencies had allegedly fallen in 2017.

During Onodera’s visit to Hawaii on January 9, Harris boasted how the “safety first” principle of American pilots have reduced the number of accidents over Japan. Harris specifically said the accident rate is “declining” with 23-25 accidents in 2017 compared to more than 30 such accidents in 2016. 

Despite Harris’ assurances, the Japanese Defense Minister urged the chief of the US Pacific Command to guarantee the safety of residents on Okinawa after two US military helicopters were forced to make emergency landings over Japan this year.

Analyzing the cause of accidents involving US Marine planes and choppers, the American Heritage Foundation in its October 2017 report blamed budget cuts and aging aircraft for hardware failures.

“As of December 31, 2016, only 41 percent of the Marine Corps’ fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft were considered flyable,” the report said. “The combination of aging aircraft and flight hour reductions can raise the risk of flight accidents attributed to both human and mechanical error.”

Okinawa hosts roughly three-quarters of the US troops deployed in Japan, with 30,000 service personnel living and working in bases that occupy about 20 percent of the island’s area. Local residents have long protested the bases, which they see as sources of pollution and crime. Faulty military aircraft and crashes are not the only issues provoking public outrage in Okinawa, where American military personnel has been involved in rape and murder scandals. The latest incident occurred in November when a US marine killed an elderly civilian in a drunk-driving accident.

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