AV-8B Harrier flight operations in Japan resume | Press Conference from Okinawa

(speaking in foreign language) – And thank you for joining us this morning (speaking in foreign language) Lieutenant General Lawrence D. Nicholson, the Okinawa Area Coordinator and commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force, will provide a statement about the resumption of AV-8B Harrier flight operations on and around Okinawa, Japan, and provide a brief question and answer session (speaking in foreign language) Thank you for your consideration of our media ground rules (speaking in foreign language) Our question and answer session will last for approximately 15 minutes (speaking in foreign language) Each media outlet, upon being selected, may ask one question with one follow-up question to allow maximum participation (speaking in foreign language) Our focus here today is the resumption of AV-8B Harrier flight operations, so we thank you for staying on this topic (speaking in foreign language) Any question on any other subject that could not be answered here today, please direct them to our public affairs office (speaking in foreign language) Ladies and gentlemen, Lieutenant General Nicholson (speaking in foreign language) – Okay, hey folks, good morning First of all, it’s good to see everyone has survived the storm It’s good to have you here today as we talk about the resumption of Harrier operations (speaking in foreign language) I’m joined here by the commanding general of the 1st Marine Air Wing, Major General Sanborn, who is a Harrier pilot and has been for over 30 years (speaking in foreign language) First of all, I want you to know why we’re doing this press conference We’re doing this out of respect for the Okinawan people We’re doing this because I want the people of Okinawa to understand how much we respect our relationship and how important transparency is between the U.S. military and the people of Okinawa (speaking in foreign language) And I wanna thank the Okinawan people for the many hundreds of social media hits and phone calls inquiring as to the safety of the pilot We’ve had a lot of concern and a lot of very, very much appreciated comments I will tell you, our pilot is fine, suffered some minor bruises as he ejected from the airplane, but he is fine and has returned to his unit (speaking in foreign language) So before we resume flight operations,

I wanted to take the opportunity to send a message to the people of Okinawa to discuss what we know and inform you of the fact of our plans to resume flying no earlier than Friday the 7th of October (speaking in foreign language) I will now read a prepared statement and then open it up to questions about what we can talk about (speaking in foreign language) As many of you know, on September 22nd, at approximately 14:05 p.m. Japanese Standard Time, one AV-8B Harrier from Marine Attack Squadron 542, attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, was involved in a mishap while conducting air combat maneuver training approximately 115 miles off the coast of Okinawa (speaking in foreign language) One pilot was aboard the aircraft and ejected safely, suffering only minor injuries He has since been cleared medically and has returned to his unit (speaking in foreign language) I want you to know that he was rescued by the United States Air Force Sierra Rescue team out of Kadena, but also the Japanese Coast Guard launched a ship and a helicopter to assist in the recovery of our downed pilot, and we are very grateful to the government of Japan and the Japanese Coast Guard for their immediate response in support of our pilot (speaking in foreign language) Immediately following the incident, General Sanborn and I initiated and instituted an operational pause, restricting the flight of the aircraft on Okinawa until I was confident we understood what happened and that we could fly safely again (speaking in foreign language) I’m also joined today by the commander of the squadron Lieutenant Colonel Ferguson is the commander of VMA-542 And with him is the executive officer, or the operations officer? Maintenance officer, Major White? Major White, who’s the maintenance officer of that squadron (speaking in foreign language)

Since the incident, and to ensure utmost safety, we have done a thorough review of squadron air crew’s training, the maintenance Our maintenance personnel have diligently reviewed the standard operating procedures, safety of flight procedures, again, reviewing every possible reason and refreshing and resetting of the squadron (speaking in foreign language) At this time, all Marine Corps Harriers in Japan have been thoroughly inspected, their crews are refreshed, and an initial review of the mishap has been completed (speaking in foreign language) Preliminary reports from ongoing investigations do not identify the incident’s cause as systemic to the aircraft, the aircrew, or because of maintenance (speaking in foreign language) Additionally, and this is important, since the mishap, Marine Corps Harrier aircraft have continued to operate safely around the world, to include at home stations in United States and deployed forward, underscoring what we believe is the platform’s reliability So only in Okinawa, I had the squadron take an op pause until we sorted out what happened But across the rest of the world, the Harriers continued to fly (speaking in foreign language) Based on a thorough review of the squadron, the aircrew, the maintenance, the material readiness, I have determined that VMA-542, upon the advice of senior Harrier pilots within the Marine Corps, that we are ready to begin flight operations again (speaking in foreign language) It has been determined that all squadron aircraft

have been found to be safe to continue flight operations, effective no earlier than this Friday, October 7th Marine Corps Harriers in Japan will resume normal flight operations in support of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation between our two countries, and security in accordance with our bilateral agreements (speaking in foreign language) The safety of our air crews and the Okinawan people is a priority, and we will continue to conduct preflight inspections, pilot training, postflight inspections every time we fly (speaking in foreign language) While you will understand that we cannot discuss the details of the ongoing investigation, and there are several investigations ongoing, we are confident and in concurrence with our senior leadership in both Hawaii and Washington, that we are able to safely return to flight operations (speaking in foreign language) Upon conclusion of the multiple investigations, we will certainly be willing to discuss this again with the media (speaking in foreign language) Again, we’re having this press conference here today out of respect and our concern for the Okinawan people, to ensure they know and we have transparency that they understand what we’re doing and why I would point out that the Harrier has been flying in Okinawa for almost four decades (speaking in foreign language) This is not a new airplane, we know this airplane very well And again, a pilot with more than 30 years flying the Harrier, we have great experience in this aircraft (speaking in foreign language) This plane was lost while conducting air combat maneuvers 150 miles off the coast of Okinawa (speaking in foreign language) This is where we go to practice our skills,

to refine our tactics, and to ensure we are ready to support the alliance between our two nations (speaking in foreign language) More than 95% of the time, this aircraft is over water The only time we were over land is administrative, when we are landing or taking off We do not practice air combat maneuvers over Okinawa (speaking in foreign language) Again, I appreciate the concern of the Okinawan people for the pilot, the outreach has been very, very positive And again we thank the Japanese Coast Guard for their great efforts, we thank the United States Air Force for their great efforts in rescuing our pilot And I want you to know we have done everything over the last 10, 12 days to ensure that when we make this decision to fly again, that the utmost regard for our pilots, the safety of our pilots, and the safety of the Okinawan people is number one (speaking in foreign language) And I take this step after conferring with senior leadership in Tokyo, senior leadership in Hawaii at PACOM, and senior leadership in Washington DC at our headquarters (speaking in foreign language) So ladies and gentlemen, with that I will answer any questions that you have I think we have about 15 minutes that we can take questions (speaking in foreign language) – So you say the initial report, initial investigation reports say that you couldn’t confirm the cause of the incident (speaking in foreign language) So the Okinawa governor is requesting that until you confirm the cause of the incident, please halt operation, that was the governor’s request (speaking in foreign language) Do you think the Okinawa governor can understand what we’re doing? – Okay, thank you for the question First of all, because the investigation is ongoing, we can’t discuss what we know, and that’s important There are things that we know right now that we can’t discuss because they are still under investigation But we have every reason to believe, we would not go back to flying if we didn’t know what happened We have a great relationship with the governor I have tremendous respect for Governor Onaga, Vice Governor Ageda We have open lines of communication But I want to assure the people of Okinawa that we would not put these airplanes back in the air,

I would not risk my pilots if I was not confident that this airplane was safe Again, after the investigation is complete, we will be able to release more But based on what we know today, this airplane is safe to fly (speaking in foreign language) – He has one more question (speaking in foreign language) You didn’t even confirm any of the cause of the incident based on the investigation Do you think you can make a public understand this is a transparency that we are talking about? – Again, you will understand that for legal reasons we cannot discuss the details of the investigation That’s the same in Japan as it would be in the United States There’s an investigation that’s ongoing and there are legal reasons as to why I cannot disclose everything at this time, because the investigation is still ongoing But once the investigation is complete, it is our intent to discuss with the media what went on What I can tell you is that based on the preliminary inquiry and what we know now between us, that this airplane is safe, the air crew is safe That’s what we know (speaking in foreign language) Let me just add again, as I want to underscore, if this plane was not safe, they wouldn’t be flying it in California, they wouldn’t be flying it throughout the United States and throughout the world There are Harriers flying around the world today If there was the belief that the airplane was unsafe, every one of those airplanes would be grounded And they’re not, they’re flying (speaking in foreign language) I will not put my pilots at risk in an unsafe airplane (speaking in foreign language) Good to see you again

(speaking in foreign language) – First of all, he wants to ask how long it will take to complete the investigation, that was the first question And then secondly he asked that Okinawa is requesting to stop the operation until the cause of the investigation is actually released, actually, is this like a realistic request for the Marine Corps side, that’s what he wants to ask And also, the governor is asking to communicate first and then to try to explain the cause of the incident, so what about the trusting relationship with the governor? Do you think you have the trusting relationship with governors? – Again, I have the utmost respect for Governor Onaga He and I have worked through some tough situations this past year, huh? We know each other and I have great respect for him I am certainly understanding that there is the desire to know everything that happened Everyone wants to know exactly what happened But again, as I told the other reporter, we are bound legally at this point, because of the ongoing investigations, we are bound legally to allow the investigation to conclude When that happens, and again, my sense is that will be, we’re talking about months We talking about several months But when that concludes, we will absolutely talk to the media again (speaking in foreign language) As you’ll imagine, senior U.S. leaders in Tokyo are working with senior Japanese leaders in Tokyo to ensure that they understand what we’re doing (speaking in foreign language) Good to see you again (speaking in foreign language) – His first question is that you say that the Okinawan people’s safety is first, that’s what you said

Didn’t you have option for not fly, to halt the operational flight until the cause of the investigation is actually said? Didn’t you have that option? And then secondly he ask, how about the Japanese? Did you inform to the Japanese government before the operational flight? And also, did you get the permission acceptance from the Japanese government? – Okay, we are having discussions The Japanese government has been informed and there are discussions in Tokyo about the resumption of flight That certainly has been done I don’t know that we can do more, at this point, to understand what happened I think we have a very good understanding of what happened, but because of the legal implications, we can’t discuss it until the investigation is complete But it does allow us the decision space to make a decision to either resume or not resume flights, and our assessment right now, across the community, across the Marine Corps, and across our department, is that we are safe to return to flights Again, this squadron is an important part of 31st MEU, an important part of the defense of Japan alliance with the United States So, again, I know that everyone wants all the details today, but again, you understand the investigation must be completed But our belief is that we have enough information today to be able to make the decision to fly And again, Harriers around the world are continuing to fly If we thought the plane was unsafe, I would not put my pilots in that airplane (speaking in foreign language) Alright, maybe one more question guys (speaking in foreign language) – Asahi Newspaper, Mr Yoshiba (speaking in foreign language) I heard that you request Governor Onaga to have a telephone conversation this morning The governor denied that conversation, and what do you think about that? And also, when do you exactly plan to discuss with Onaga about this? – Again, I have great respect

and admiration for the governor We have open communications We discuss a lot of things, both Onaga and Vice Governor Ageda I think we have a strong relationship I look forward to speaking with the governor But again, great respect for the governor and the people of Okinawa, and that’s why we’re here today We’re here today so we can get the word out to the people of Okinawa that we’re gonna fly again Now, we’re flying 100 miles off shore where we do our heavy work, but that work is important That work is important to our alliance That work is important to the security of our treaty And as partners we must get back to work That’s why we’re here, to work in the defense of our alliance But again, for Governor Onaga, great respect And I hope that our relationship continues to grow and be strong We work on a lot of things together And again, we’ve had some tough times this year, but we’ve gotten through those And again, great respect for Governor Onaga and the OPG (speaking in foreign language) – He want to ask additional question (speaking in foreign language) Yesterday, Governor Onaga said he doesn’t want you to use good neighbor or the word respect So what do you think about that? – I have not talked to Governor Onaga about this I’d like to Again, I think we have a good relationship, we have a strong relationship I want to make one final point We would not take this action without being as confident as we are We’re very confident in our decision We’re not doing anything different here than I would do if I was in California or North Carolina I would make the same decision there that I’m making here I think it’s important to understand that we value the lives of our pilots, we value the lives of the Okinawan people I think the decision we’re making is based on the facts as we know them When the investigation is complete, we will again reassemble and discuss But until then, it is important for our alliance, and Governor Onaga is a strong supporter of the alliance of our two nations,

it is important to our alliance to get back to work, and that’s what we’re gonna do Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you I appreciate your attendance today Again, we’re doing this purely out of transparency and respect with the Okinawan people, that’s why we’ve had this session today Thank you for all the well-wishers who have asked about our pilot, he’s fine And thanks to the great Coast Guard of Japan for their quick and immediate response in support of our pilot Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much (speaking in foreign language) – Ladies and gentlemen, (speaking in foreign language) thank you for joining us today (speaking in foreign language) Any follow-on questions or additional questions that you have, we ask that you contact our public affairs office by phone, or by emailing [email protected] (speaking in foreign language) Thank you (speaking in foreign language)