On July 19, the U.S. Navy awarded a $545 million contract to Bell-Boeing to manufacture and deliver four V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to Japan, according to a Pentagon press release. The latest order is part of a $3 billion sale of 17 V-22 Osprey military transport aircraft and associated equipment to the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF).
In July 2015, the U.S. Navy awarded Bell-Boeing–Bell Helicopters and Boeing formed a business partnership to develop and produce the V-22—the contract to supply the first five V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft to the JSDF via the Pentagon’s foreign military sales program. It was the V-22’s first international sale. Japan first announced its intention to procure the Osprey aircraft in November 2014.
The V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft “is a hybrid between a conventional helicopter and turboprop plane with both vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. It outperforms traditional helicopters in terms of speed and range,” I explained in May 2016 (See: “Meet Japan’s Newest Aircraft for Defending the Senkaku Islands”). The JSDF will receive the V-22B Block C variant, in service with the United States Marine Corps (USMC).
A number of V-22s will be stationed aboard the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s new 19,5000-ton helicopter carrier Izumo. Japan’s Ministry of Defense also announced its intention to deploy some V-22s in the East China Sea. The purchase of V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft is part of a larger push of the JSDF to improve its amphibious and naval warfare capabilities. As I reported in December 2015 (See: “Japan Approves Record Defense Budget”), next to the four Ospreys, Japan will procure the following military hardware:
The fiscal year 2016/2017 shopping list encompasses 11 units of AAV7 amphibious assault vehicles made by BAE System — Japan is in the process of setting up an Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade by 2017 — 17 Mitsubishi SH-60K anti-submarine warfare helicopters, (…) three Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk drones, six F-35A Lightning II fighter planes, one Kawasaki C-2 military transport aircraft, and 36 new lighter maneuver combat vehicles (MCVs).
A 2015 press release by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency states:
Japan is modernizing its transport fleet to better support its defense and special mission needs. The proposed sale of V-22B Block C Osprey aircraft will greatly enhance the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities and support amphibious operations. This sale will promote burden sharing with our ally and interoperability with U.S. forces. Japan will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces.
In the past, there have been repeated concerns over the reliability of the V-22 given that a number of aircraft in service with the USMC in Japan have crashed. The V-22 project has also been beset by a number of controversies right from the onset.