An Osprey aircraft flies over Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa. Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that the US is deploying its first Osprey CV-22 military transport planes to Yokota Air Base base in western Tokyo – more than a year ahead of schedule.

The newspaper says the first five CV-22 Ospreys were unloaded at the Yokohama North Dock, a facility operated by the US Army, on April 4 from a container vessel that arrived the previous day. It’s the first deployment on the Japanese main islands of the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plane that is designed for amphibious military operations. The planes are already assigned to US Marine units on Okinawa.

“The aircraft are expected to be taken to the Yokota Air Base within a few days and then fly off overseas. The Ospreys will return to the base this summer and start trial flights,” Asahi reported, without saying where the planes will be going after leaving Japan.

Another five CV-22 Ospreys are expected to be stationed at the Yokota Air Base with 450 supporting personnel, over the coming years.

Although its primary role is to serve as a military transport, the Osprey can be armed with Gatling guns, Hellfire air-to-ground-missiles and other US weapons systems. Its ability to carry out amphibious operations by ferrying troops allows the plane to figure in Japanese plans to defend disputed islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both China and Japan. Japan-based Ospreys can also fly to the Korean Peninsula if the need arises.

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