Tab for Ospreys staying airborne in Japan can only soar

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Tab for Ospreys staying airborne in Japan can only soar

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Tab for Ospreys staying airborne in Japan can only soar

By HIROTAKA KOJO/ Staff Writer

October 15, 2018 at 07:00 JST

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Photo/IllutrationA CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft deployed at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo (Kotaro Ebara)

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Mention the word Osprey in Japan, and the first reaction will invariably be a comment about the U.S.-developed transport aircraft's safety record.

That, it turns out, is not the only concern about the fixed wing tilt-rotor aircraft destined to be a mainstay of the Self-Defense Forces.

Ospreys are very sophisticated machines, and, therefore, incredibly costly to maintain.

The Defense Ministry designated the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture for engine and other maintenance work on the Ospreys based on the 2015 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation. The agreement obliges the allies to strengthen the framework to repair and maintain "common equipment.”

Camp Kisarazu started doing periodic maintenance on U.S. Marine Corps Ospreys in early 2017, but after a year and seven months the work has yet to finish.

The delay will inevitably translate into higher costs and less frequent training, according to an insider.

Five U.S. Air Force CV-22 Ospreys were deployed to Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo on Oct. 1.

The aircraft undergo maintenance checks after a specified number of flight hours. The U.S. military†™s Ospreys are required to undergo a complete overhaul once every five years.

The maintenance work at Camp Kisarazu is done by automaker Subaru Corp., which was selected by the U.S. military through bidding because the company's aerospace department had manufactured and mended the SDF’s fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

Maintenance work on the first Osprey began in February last year at the camp’s hangar. The aircraft was disassembled, parts replaced and its body repainted.

Although maintenance usually takes three to four months, this project was initially expected to take seven months as it was the first time for Subaru to examine the aircraft.

But that work is still not finished. While all the repairs in the hangar were completed in September, the aircraft has not undergone flight safety tests.

A Defense Ministry official explained that it took longer than expected to procure parts and dedicated tools, as well as figure out how to go about the task.

“No structural problems were found with the aircraft's fuselage,” the ministry official said. “I'm sure that maintenance workers’ skills will improve as time goes by, thereby reducing the time spent inspecting each aircraft.”

Still, maintenance of the Ospreys will be very costly.

According to a Defense Ministry estimate, the cost of repairing 17 GSDF Ospreys will come to 147.6 billion yen ($1.29 billion) over their 20-year operation period.

If, as expected, each aircraft undergoes a thorough inspection every five years, there will be 51 full maintenance checks that will cost 2.9 billion yen each time.

The cost entails not only regular overhaul, but also expenses to deal with malfunctions.

Per-unit maintenance costs are much higher than the 130 million yen for the GSDF’s CH-47 large transport helicopters and 150 million yen for its AH-64D attack helicopters.

The GSDF is scheduled to purchase 17 MV- 22 Ospreys from the United States, which, along with the U.S. Marine Corps’ 24 Ospreys, are due to be maintained at Camp Kisarazu.

Under that setup, five to 10 Ospreys will undergo periodic maintenance checks there each year.

It remains undecided where maintenance checks will be done for 10 CV-22 Ospreys that will be deployed to Yokota Air Base by 2024 or so.

Doing the work at Camp Kisarazu will impose an additional burden on the facility.

“Longer maintenance delays will have a severe impact, such as reducing the frequency of drills,” said a Defense Ministry source. “There is a very real prospect that more maintenance staff will be needed to quickly finish the process, which means higher costs.”

Military commentator Yoshitomo Aoki noted that Ospreys are technologically far more complex than ordinary helicopters, "so maintaining the engine and other parts is several times more difficult than other models.”

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