The Marine Corps will bring two squadrons of its latest transport aircraft, the Osprey, and one light attack helicopter squadron to Kaneohe Bay. (AP)
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. will delay flight operations by Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys in Okinawa until the Japanese government agrees that the hybrid aircraft is safe, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday.
Panetta told Pentagon reporters that U.S. officials are completing a safety report and will provide Japanese leaders with details on two recent Osprey crashes in Florida and Morocco.
His comments came after he met with Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, who then left the Pentagon for a flight on an Osprey to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va.
The tilt-rotor Osprey can take off and land like a helicopter but also has wings and can fly like a plane.
Panetta says the Osprey is critical for Marines in Japan, and the aircraft are being delivered to the U.S. base on Okinawa.
Five airmen on an Air Force Osprey were injured in April when the aircraft crashed in the Florida Panhandle, and in June a Marine Corps version of the MV-22 went down during a training exercise in Morocco, killing two Marines and injuring two others.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said that no Osprey flights would take place until investigations into the two crashes were completed and Japan was satisfied that the aircraft was not a safety hazard.
Last week the first 12 Ospreys arrived in Japan, and Panetta said the aircraft will allow the Marines there to fly faster and farther to remote islands in the region. The Osprey also can refuel in flight.
Panetta said that Morimoto would have the chance to experience first-hand the capabilities of the Osprey, which the defense secretary called a "one of a kind" aircraft.