Full-scale United States military drone operations are set to begin later in May as Washington intends to keep its promise to Tokyo to help maintain stability in the region and enforce their alliance with Japan. The drones will most likely be deployed to monitor Chinese military activities and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. This is in line with Japan’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) planning to procure three units of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in 2015.
The U.S. Air Force’s initial plan is to deploy two Global Hawk UAVs to its Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture later this month. According to the bilateral agreement between Japan and the U.S., the drones will be staying there until October this year, with a plan to redeploy them next year as well. The Global Hawk drones are 40-meter-wide, 14.5-meter-long airplane-type machines made by American military supplier Northrop Grumman, and have been previously used in military operations in locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. These unarmed UAVs – it is possible to arm them for warfare – will be flying at altitudes of 60,000 feet, and will be up in the air for up to 30 hours. They will be used to survey military facilities on the ground – in the case of North Korea – and vessels in open waters with sophisticated sensors and radar. The latter most likely refers to Japan’s ongoing territorial dispute with China over a string of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea called Senkakus by the Japanese – as Chinese maritime vessels have continually been seen patrolling in the area, sometimes in Japanese territorial waters.
Japan’s SDF is planning to procure three Global Hawk units, with a view to deploy them at the Japanese air base in Misawa. Use of the drones is expected to improve the capabilities of Japan to gather intelligence in areas around the country. “The Global Hawk provided us with a wealth of data, including surveillance of crippled reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant,” a senior Self-Defense Force official said. “The device will be effective in surveying the activities of North Korea and the Chinese military.”