News Briefs – February 7, 2018


Japanese combat helicopter crashes in southern Japan

Japanese troops on Feb. 6 found a body believed to be of the pilot of a military helicopter that crashed nose down, killing the co-pilot and burning down two houses and ripping the top floor off one of them. One resident of the house was injured slightly.

The Boeing AH-64 combat helicopter, belonging to the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Metabaru training camp, crashed in Kanzaki city in Saga prefecture seven minutes into a test flight after routine maintenance, defense officials said. The crash site in a residential area was 3.6 miles from the base.

The Defense Ministry said the co-pilot suffered heart and lung failure and was later pronounced dead, and the pilot was missing. On Tuesday, ministry officials said a body found where troops searched through the wreckage was believed to be the pilot and was being identified.

Footage aired Feb. 6 by public broadcaster NHK showed the moment of the fall, with the helicopter going out of control, spiraling and descending nose down. Earlier footage showed orange flames and black smoke rising from the charred house, which had its upper floor torn off. Witnesses reported a big boom and ripping noises from the sky before the crash.

An 11-year-old girl was the only one of the four residents of the damaged house who was home at the time and managed to escape, according to Saga prefecture’s disaster department. It said she suffered a minor knee injury. The house next door and a storage building were also damaged, the disaster department said.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the helicopter fell nose down after losing contact with air traffic control. He said Feb. 6 that the helicopter had its main rotor parts replaced during the maintenance before the test flight. Onodera said the cause of the accident is under investigation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he ordered the grounding of all 12 helicopters of the same type for safety checks. During a parliamentary session Tuesday, Abe apologized over the accident.

“It is extremely regrettable that the Self-Defense Force, which is supposed to protect the people’s lives and peaceful life, threatened the safety of the residents and caused tremendous damage,” he said.

The crash follows a series of emergency landings and other incidents involving U.S. military aircraft on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa. AP

Senior U.S. diplomat pitches arms sales in China’s backyard

The top U.S. diplomat overseeing arms sales said Feb. 5 she would be promoting American weaponry at the largest air show in Asia, where China’s military footprint and political influence are surging.

A large U.S. delegation at the Singapore Air Show is doing “everything we can” to encourage Southeast Asian governments to purchase U.S.-made arms like the F-35 fighter jet, Ambassador Tina Kaidanow told reporters in a telephone briefing. She repeatedly sought to dispel the notion that U.S. influence was in retreat.

The Trump administration in December outlined a new national security strategy that placed an emphasis on countering China’s rise. The strategy calls for reinforcing the U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing and Washington have accused each other of stoking a dangerous military buildup while vying for influence.

Washington has been seeking to woo countries like Vietnam, a former foe, with arms sales and transfers at a time when China has bolstered its territorial claims in the South China Sea with extensive construction projects on man-made islands.

Kaidanow said the transfer last year of a coast guard cutter to Vietnam, which often contests China’s maritime claims, was an “incredible positive.”

“They will be able to use our equipment for maritime domain awareness, for maritime security … that’s important for them,” said Kaidanow, who visited Hanoi last week shortly after U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on a visit to Vietnam, announced plans to send an aircraft carrier to the country in a show of solidarity.

“Our hope is they will consider American companies (not only) in defense but in other sectors as well,” Kaidanow said, referring to Vietnam.

China’s assertive military posture in the South China Sea has concerned several Southeast Asian countries with rival territorial claims, but Beijing, wary of being encircled by a U.S.-led alliance, has at the same time offered infrastructure investment across the region as a way of winning friends. China has shipped weapons to countries like the Philippines, which once decried China’s maritime claims but has recently drawn closer to Beijing.

Kaidanow said she will meet with officials from Japan, Canada and several Southeast Asian countries to discuss arms purchases at the trade show in the coming days and argued that Southeast Asian countries should consider purchasing U.S. arms “not just as a matter of security but also regional balance.”

U.S. warships will maintain their freedom-of-navigation operations in South China Sea waters claimed by China, she said, adding: “We will absolutely continue the pace.”

China condemns the U.S. operations as “reckless” provocations that raise the risk of military confrontation between the two powers. China strongly protested in January when the USS Hopper destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, which China disputes with the Philippines.

In the aftermath, Chinese state media referred to the incident to argue that China should speed up its deployments in the busy waterway, where it has built hangers, runways and military infrastructure. AP

Boeing announces over $900 million in orders at air show

Boeing has announced more than $900 million in orders at the Singapore Airshow from companies in the region and beyond.

The orders announced Feb. 6 consist of aircraft parts, digital applications and planning tools. Boeing did not give the value of individual orders.

Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways, ordered 36 landing gear exchanges for Boeing 787s. Singapore Airlines signed a deal for the usage of an electronic logbook application that makes operations more efficient.

The announcement was made at the Singapore Airshow, the largest in Asia, featuring 1,080 exhibitors from 48 countries. AP