A pair of MV-22B Ospreys rest on the flight deck of the amphibious assualt ship Makin Island during Exercise Iron Fist near Japan on March 1. The Marine Corps plans to move the tiltrotor aircraft to bases in Hawaii and Japan. CPL. SALVADOR R. MORENO / MARINE CORPS
By Gidget Fuentes/Military Times
The Marine Corps plans to make the MV-22B Osprey its primary medium-lift transport aircraft in Hawaii as part of the broader rebasing of forces in the Pacific, moves that also will include moving the tiltrotor aircraft to Japan before year's end.
At Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, officials want to base as many as 24 MV-22s, two squadrons worth, plus a light-attack squadron of 15 AH-1 Super Cobra attack helicopters and 12 UH-1 Huey utility helicopters. The Ospreys are intended to replace the CH-46E Sea Knight and the CH-53D Sea Stallion. In all, this would increase the Corps' footprint in Hawaii by about 1,000 Marines, 1,100 family members and 20 civilian workers over the next six years, according to an environmental impact report released in June.
It could be August before the Navy Department renders a final decision on the plan.
The mix of infantry, artillery, helicopter and logistics assets in Hawaii is unbalanced, officials say, contending the addition of three squadrons and expanded training facilities there will close capability gaps and strengthen the Marine air-ground task force in the mid-Pacific. Currently, 3rd Marines is the only infantry regiment that does not train routinely with Hueys and Super Cobras, the report notes, leaving its three battalions with no ability to work with armed escorts and practice airborne control of supporting arms, for example.
Stateside squadrons have had to pick up the slack at times when needs arise in Hawaii, and the looming retirement of the CH-53D will add to shortfalls in medium-lift capability.
The Hawaii-based HMLA squadron, which would move from Camp Pendleton, Calif., is intended to supply rotational detachments to Japan for six to seven months with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit on Okinawa.
Along with new barracks and hangars at Kaneohe Bay, the Corps wants to construct training facilities and landing zones at three sites:
• Marine Corps Training Area Bellows on Oahu.
• Pohakuloa Training Area on the big island of Hawaii.
• Molokai Training Support Facility.
These moves would be phased in over the next 10 years.
NEW ASSETS IN JAPAN
The Marine Corps also wants to replace its older helicopters in Japan with the modern Osprey, which boasts superior range and speed. The move would strengthen the Corps' ability to "assist in the defense of Japan, perform humanitarian assistance and disaster response and fulfill other alliance roles," officials wrote in an environmental review completed in April by Marine Corps Installations-Pacific.
The Corps plans to base two squadrons, with a dozen aircraft apiece, at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, currently home to the "Dragons" of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 and the "Flying Tigers" of HMM-262, both of which operate CH-46Es. As many as 27 Ospreys could be housed there to ensure there are enough available to operate when others are sidelined for maintenance.
A dozen MV-22B Ospreys are expected to arrive in Japan before the end of 2012. But this basing plan isn't getting a warm reception by the locals. In May, Naha city officials adopted a resolution opposing Ospreys at Futenma, which is in nearby Ginowan city. The April 11 fatal crash of an MV-22B Osprey in Morocco and the June 13 crash of an Air Force CV-22 in Florida further fueled safety fears of the relatively new aircraft flying over civilian homes.
Japanese news agencies have reported that some Ospreys could be temporarily housed at MCAS Iwakuni before moving to Okinawa.
Once on Okinawa, Ospreys would move around the region, according to the environmental review. Detachments of two to six Ospreys will make two- or three-day deployments to Iwakuni and the Combined Arms Training Facility at Camp Fuji on mainland Japan, MCI-Pacific officials wrote in the report. Occasional two-week deployments also could occur.
The Osprey's arrival will equip the seagoing 31st MEU with added combat lift and reach. This spring, amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard arrived for duty in Sasebo, Japan, replacing the older gator ship Essex. During its recent overhaul, Bonhomme Richard was retrofitted with repainted landing spots on the flight deck and extra space for maintenance in the ship's hangar bay, moves meant to accommodate the Osprey.