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Japan doesn't believe U.S. inspection of military choppers effective

Staff Writer |
The Defense Ministry is set to look into whether the "surprise inspection" of U.S. military helicopters reportedly conducted by the forces in the wake of a spate of emergency landings of AH-1 attack helicopters in Okinawa Prefecture was effective.

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Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera disclosed the plan during a meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Budget on Jan. 29.

Onodera said that the U.S. forces filed a report to the Japanese government that it had carried out surprise safety inspections of their helicopter unit, following the forced landings of AH-1 attack choppers in the southernmost prefecture twice in January.

"We cannot accept the U.S. claim at face value," Onodera told the Diet session, suggesting that his ministry will independently investigate if the U.S. military's surprise inspections and follow-up maintenance are effective.

An AH-1 helicopter belonging to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, made an emergency landing in the prefectural village of Yomitan on Jan. 8, while another AH-1 chopper did the same in the village of Tonaki on Jan. 23.

The Defense Ministry demanded that flights of all helicopters of the same model be suspended, but the U.S. forces resumed such flights on Jan. 24 without consulting Tokyo. Onodera quoted the U.S. forces as claiming that they had conducted emergency inspections of the same models and suspended such flights until the inspections had been completed.

During the lower house panel session, the defense minister revealed that the Jan. 23 emergency landing, like the Jan. 8 incident, took place after a warning lamp alerted to sensor trouble in the tail rotor of the AH-1 chopper.

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