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Japan may buy US drones: Report

NATO Global Hawk. A Northrop Grumman photo

TOKYO (AFP): Japan's Defence Ministry is looking to buy three US-made Global Hawk spy drones to help monitor China's military movements and North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, a report said Monday.

Japan hopes to use the camera-equipped unarmed aircraft to boost the officially pacifist nation's intelligence-gathering capabilities, watch remote islands and monitor suspicious ships in and near its waters, Kyodo News said.

The unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft each cost around USD 50 million, Kyodo said, citing unnamed ministry sources.

Equipped with sophisticated communications capabilities, the Global Hawk can fly at an altitude of 60,000 feet (18,000 metres) -- about twice as high as commercial passenger planes -- for more than 30 hours on autopilot, it said.

An ongoing territorial row with China that began when Tokyo arrested a Chinese trawler captain in disputed waters in the East China Sea nearly four weeks ago has frayed diplomatic ties between the two Asian powers.

Japan's defence ministry hopes to include the drone purchase plan in its new mid-term defence programme, which covers the period up to March 2016, Kyodo said.

In what would inevitably raise tensions with China, Japan and the United States are also planning to hold a joint military exercise in December with a focus on defending remote Japanese islands, Kyodo said in a separate report.

The exercise, using a scenario in which remote islands are invaded by armed forces, would deploy Japan-based US aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the sea drill and Japanese ground troops on the land, Kyodo said.


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