On Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force initiated a search and rescue mission following the crash of a CV-22B Osprey off the coast of Japan, carrying eight airmen.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the well-being of the crew remained uncertain, according to a statement from the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). The involved tiltrotor aircraft was part of the 353rd Special Operations Wing based at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
The incident occurred during a routine training exercise near Yakushima Island, and emergency personnel were actively engaged in search and rescue efforts. The CV-22 serves as the AFSOC variant of the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey, playing a role in special operations for tasks such as long-range infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply missions.
Tokyo has requested the U.S. military to halt the operations of all Ospreys in Japan, except those involved in the search for the crash victims. Taro Yamato, a senior official from the Defense Ministry, informed a parliamentary hearing that Japan has decided to suspend Osprey flights starting Thursday. This suspension will remain in effect until further information about the crash and assurance of safety is obtained.
Information from an emergency management official in the Kagoshima region indicates that there are reports of the aircraft emitting flames from its left engine. The Japanese coastguard, actively participating in the search efforts, deployed patrol ships, aircraft, and specialized sonar equipment to thoroughly examine the sea floor for any indications of missing personnel.
The Japanese Coast Guard received notification of the crash at approximately 2:47 p.m. local time, according to a spokesperson. Following the incident, the government of Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture has requested the grounding of all Ospreys in the island chain. However, as of now, no official stand-down order has been issued by the U.S. military. The Osprey is capable of performing long-range infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply missions for special operations forces, handling tasks that typically require both rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft capabilities.
It’s worth noting that the Osprey has a history of mechanical and operational issues, leading to service member fatalities since 1992. This recent crash occurred a few months after three U.S. Marines lost their lives in an MV-22B Osprey during a military exercise in Australia.
The recent crash on Wednesday adds to a series of fatal Osprey accidents for both the Air Force and Marine Corps, highlighting the ongoing challenge of addressing longstanding mechanical issues with the aircraft. In August, a Marine Corps Osprey crashed in Australia, resulting in the death of three Marines. Another incident occurred last year in Southern California, claiming the lives of five Marines, with investigation findings in July attributing the crash to a hard clutch engagement (HCE), a mechanical problem persisting in the military for over a decade.
Despite these challenges, Air Force and Pentagon officials have conveyed that in recent months they maintain confidence in the aircraft.
In June 2022, a Marine Corps Osprey, known as Swift 11, crashed in southern California, resulting in the loss of five Marines. Following a Marine Corps investigation in March, it was determined that these fatalities marked the first instances directly linked to the Hard Clutch Engagement (HCE) problem. In February, as a preventive measure against HCE, the military announced the replacement of the aircraft’s input quills, a component of the drivetrain. However, specific details, such as the frequency of replacements and the number of temporarily grounded Ospreys, were not disclosed.
The investigation into Swift 11 revealed that the quills were being replaced every 800 flight hours. Despite this, the definitive cause of the HCE issue remains unknown. Military documents indicate that the entire Osprey fleet undergoing reporting has been retrofitted with new input quills. The Marine Corps asserts that this replacement is a nearly flawless, 99% solution, although skepticism has been expressed by the widow of a Marine from the Swift 11 incident and aviation experts.
The Marine Corps and Air Force commenced Osprey operations in 2007 and 2009, respectively, while the Navy received its first operational aircraft in 2021. However, recent fiscal 2024 budget documents reveal that the military has concluded its acquisition of the Osprey. According to these documents released in March by the Navy, the services collectively aim for a total of 464 aircraft — 360 for the Marines, 48 for the Navy, and 56 for U.S. Special Operations Command and the Air Force.