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Tokyo eyeing purchase of US spy drones
Publication Date : 01-01-2013
The planned introduction of the cutting-edge drone would enable Japan to more effectively cope with the increased pressure from China over Senkakus
The Japanese government has embarked on a plan to acquire the Global Hawk--a high-altitude, long-distance unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft--from the United States to enhance the ability of Self-Defence Forces (SDF) to collect information, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The planned introduction of the cutting-edge drone would bolster Japan's intelligence capabilities, enabling it to more effectively cope with the increased pressure by China over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, according to government and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) sources.
The Global Hawk would also enhance the SDF's ability to gather information on North Korea, which has pushed ahead with programmes to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, the sources said.
The plan is to be incorporated into a review of the fiscal 2011-16 Mid-Term Defence Programme to be conducted by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the sources said.
Under the current five-year plan, formulated under the Democratic Party of Japan, the introduction of unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft was labelled a matter for long-term study.
The Abe Cabinet, however, appears willing to adopt a speedier time frame for studying the advisability of equipping the SDF with unmanned spy drones, apparently in response to pressure from LDP lawmakers. Proponents point to the increase in incidents involving Chinese government vessels and aircraft around the Senkakus, some of which have infringed on Japanese waters and airspace.
Developed by US defence contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., the Global Hawk can fly at a high altitude of about 18,000 metres, and is equipped with precision sensors and radar that can track suspicious vessels or gather intelligence.
Unlike the Predator, which is armed with missiles and other weapons, the Global Hawk has no offensive capabilities, and specialises solely in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR. The 14.5-metre-long aircraft has a wingspan of about 40 metres, according US Air Force data.
Introducing the Global Hawk, which is piloted remotely by a crew of three on the ground, would enable the SDF to fill loopholes in its surveillance capability, the sources noted, as the drone can fly continuously for more than 30 hours.
In addition to security purposes, the aircraft could be used to collect information on radiation contamination, they said.
After the 2011 disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant, a US military Global Hawk flew over the crippled nuclear complex to take photos and collect other data as part of the United States' Operation Tomodachi.
The government and senior LDP leaders are looking to obtain from one to three Global Hawks by fiscal 2015, before the current midterm defence programme ends, the sources said.
The study would also examine introducing a ground-based remote control system for the aircraft, they said.
The Japanese and US governments agreed in August to study the possibility of having US drones fly surveillance flights over waters surrounding Japan.
If the SDF were to acquire the drone, the surveillance areas would be broadened significantly due to information sharing with the US military, which would strengthen the Japan-US alliance, according to the sources.
With the aim of eventually developing domestic unmanned surveillance aircraft, the government wants to become familiar with drone operations, the sources said.
As part of efforts to beef up defences on the Nansei Islands, which include the Senkakus, the government has been considering equipping the SDF with the US military's latest model transport plane, the MV-22 Osprey. Arrangements are being made to allocate funds to study the matter in the state budget for fiscal 2013, the sources said.