Global Hawk UAV. Creative Commons photo, Flckr user jim.gordon.

Japan is considering buying four Global Hawk UAVs for long-range surveillance. From Ares:

The Japanese military’s joint staff office is studying the possible order, reflecting its status as a national program. A force of four could provide a continuous patrol, even with one in deep maintenance.

The navy is arguing that Japan is not ready to deploy such unmanned aircraft and should therefore defer the decision. Doing so would open the possibility of buying the navy’s preferred version of the Global Hawk, the MQ-4C, which is still under development for the U.S. Navy as a specifically maritime-oriented patroller.

The air force is pushing for an early move in which Japan would order the RQ-4B Block 30, the current U.S. Air Force production version. Japanese sensors are not ready and would, in any case, need time for integration. If the aircraft were ordered under the imminent policy statement, they would be delivered to the current U.S. production standard, perhaps with sensitive equipment or software omitted. (Link)

A full-sized mockup was displayed in Tokyo last April.

From the article, it sounds like the Japan Air Self Defense Force and the Maritime Self Defense Force each want Global Hawk, for different reasons. Both may want it for the ballistic-missile defense role, but the MSDF likely also has the maritime surveillance role in mind. Perhaps it would be wiser to split the buy between the MQ-4C (the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAV) and RQ-4B Block 30.

Japan could justify being a very prolific buyer of long-range UAVs. Having the 7th largest Exclusive Economic Zone and an archipelago consisting of 2,500 islands stretched over several thousand kilometers, Japan has a lot of territory to keep an eye on.

Here’s hoping a procurement decision will be made before 2020.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch