An Osprey tilt-rotor plane of the Ground Self-Defense Force arrived in Okinawa on Thursday for joint drills with U.S. forces, marking the first flight of one of the Japanese aircraft to the southern island prefecture, amid China's growing military assertiveness.

The arrival of the aircraft came despite an Okinawa prefectural government request to the Defense Ministry not to use the airport in Ishigaki Island due to safety concerns over the U.S.-made Ospreys, which take off and land like helicopters but cruise like planes.

"It is very regrettable that it landed in disregard of the prefecture's request," said Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki.

A V-22 Osprey aircraft (front) of the Ground Self-Defense Force lands at Painushima Ishigaki Airport on Okinawa's Ishigaki Island on Oct. 19, 2023. (Kyodo)

The aircraft, belonging to the GSDF's V-22 Osprey fleet based at Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, landed on Ishigaki to prepare for the joint drills scheduled next Tuesday, according to Okinawa authorities.

The drills form part of the Resolute Dragon large-scale training exercise of the U.S. Marines and the GSDF from last Saturday through Oct. 31 simulating the defense of remote islands amid Beijing's intensified military activity in the East China Sea.

The Osprey is expected to take part in training for the transportation of wounded people from Okinawa to GSDF camps in southwestern Japan.

Ospreys have been involved in a series of serious accidents and mishaps both in Japan and abroad. In 2016 an MV-22, the variant used by the U.S. Marine Corps, crash-landed off Okinawa, with crashes also occurring in Australia in 2017 and August this year, killing three crew members on both occasions.

Since July 2020, GSDF Ospreys have been temporarily deployed at the Kisarazu camp with a deadline of July 2025, by when the government aims to relocate the fleet to the southwestern prefecture of Saga.

U.S. forces in Japan commenced deployment of six MV-22s at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa in 2012. There are currently 24 MV-22s stationed at the Futenma base and six CV-22s at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo.

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