TOKYO, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Sunday declined to comment on whether a fatal crash of a military helicopter in Saga Prefecture would affect the planned deployment of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
The attitude has done little to allay rising local and national concerns about the accident-prone plane.
Onodera visited the local government office in Saga, in Japan's southwest Sunday to apologize for the helicopter crash, which killed both its crew members and led to a private house being burnt to the ground.
The incident sent ripples of fear, concern and panic across the nation amid rising instances of accidents and mishaps linked to both Japanese and U.S. military aircraft here recently.
However facing the public, Onodera sidestepped the issue of the planned deployment of the accident-prone Osprey to the prefecture.
"Under the current circumstances, I cannot comment on the matter," Onodera was quoted as telling a press briefing on the matter.
The defense minister's remarks came after he held talks with Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi, during which he reportedly promised to ensure that comprehensive measures would be taken to ensure the safety of SDF aircraft.
Onodera said that through ongoing investigations of the latest military-linked aircraft mishap, experts were trying to determine the cause of the fatal crash in Saga's Kanzaki City.
Onodera added that pending the conclusion of the investigation into the accident and new protocols to ensure future mishaps are avoided, he would restart talks with local officials and citizens about the Osprey's deployment there.
At the outset of their meeting, Yamaguchi said that the "SDF need to make absolutely sure that they do not cause trouble for civilians."
Local people and officials in Saga, in light of the most recent accident, have voiced their concerns about the deployment of the controversial Ospreys to the Saga airport, which is jointly used by military and civilian aircraft.
Labor union members in Saga have already submitted a request to the Defense Ministry calling for the planned deployment of the Ospreys to be scrapped.
Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force is planning to acquire 17 Ospreys to be deployed at Saga airport in southwestern Japan and allocations have been made in the latest defense budget for more of the controversial planes.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, has more than 20 of the MV-22 Ospreys deployed at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, itself a source of rapidly rising irritation to local residents and officials in Japan's southernmost prefecture, owing to a spate of recent aircraft-linked mishaps.
Okinawan residents have long been enduring such mishaps as that just happened in Saga. Prefectural officials and citizens have been outraged by a recent spate of accidents and mishaps involving U.S. military helicopters.
In December 2017, a window falling from a U.S. Marine CH-53E transport helicopter and crashing onto the ground of an elementary school, just meters from where children were taking an exercise class, ignited anger and fear among locals.
The accident did not stop helicopters, based at Futenma, from flying over the school following the incident, despite ardent protests from the local government.
In January alone, three helicopters, also from the controversial Futenma base, were forced to make emergency, off-base landings in Okinawa, leading to staunch condemnation from local residents and a palpable rise in anti-U.S. sentiment on the tiny sub-tropical island.
The prefectural assembly of Okinawa unanimously adopted a resolution recently protesting the helicopter-linked mishaps, highlighting the fact that U.S. forces in Okinawa continue to operate the models of helicopters involved despite having not provided adequate reasons for the accidents.
The resolution also called for an immediate halt of flights over civilian areas, and, for the Marines stationed in Okinawa to be transferred out of the prefecture and Japan altogether, at the earliest time possible.
The resolution has been delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and to U.S. Forces, Japan, which operate under the auspices of the United States Pacific Command.
As for the planned acquisition and deployment of more Ospreys, a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey making an emergency landing in Japan's Oita Prefecture, on the eastern coast of Kyushu, in August 2017, and a crash-landing of an MV-22 Osprey aircraft off Nago in Okinawa in December 2016, have done little to help the government's cause.
Further compounding the issue, the commander of one of the U.S. Marine Corps two MV-22 Osprey squadrons based in Okinawa was fired owing to a "loss of trust in his ability to command," local media reported on Feb. 2.
Marine Lt. Col. Bryan Swenson was removed from his position commanding the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 on January 26, the U.S. Marine Corps was quoted as saying in local reports.
Swenson's high-profile removal came six months after a fatal crash of one of the squadron's MV-22 Ospreys off Australia's eastern coast in which three crew members were killed.