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10 Jun 05. The FT reported that fearing a flare-up in North Korea at any time, the Defense Agency has abandoned plans for the domestic production of a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and will purchase U.S.-made planes instead, sources said.

They said the decision was made because strengthened surveillance of airspace around Japan has become a priority, given the uncertain situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Analysts said it likely would have taken a decade for Japan to deploy a domestically produced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Pentagon operates several UAV versions, so deploying one that fits Defense Agency needs should be no problem, the sources said.

The aircraft would be used not only for patrol and reconnaissance over Japanese airspace, but could also be used for intelligence gathering from North Korea-even while flying in Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ), which establishes the boundaries for territorial airspace.
Intelligence data picked up by the UAV could be linked to a missile defense system that Japan is now in the process of acquiring Defense Agency officials said funding for the UAV system would be sought in the fiscal 2006 budget for deployment as early as 2007.

A Defense Agency study team visited the United States in April for a first-hand look at what UAVs actually do. Members focused on high-altitude aircraft like the Global Hawk and Predator as well as the low-altitude Fire Scout and Eagle Eye.

The outline of an operating plan will be compiled as early as July recommending that a high-altitude plane that is capable of prolonged missions be acquired for surveillance of the region around Japan. The Global Hawk vehicle is considered the front-runner in the race to select a UAV. Produced by Northrop Grumman Corp., the Global Hawk can fly at an altitude of about 20,000 meters, or about twice that of most commercial jets. The plane can remain in the air for up to 36 hours. The tab for a single UAV would run into billions of yen. Another strong candidate is the Predator, sources said. While the Predator flies at an altitude of about 8,000 meters, it can also be used to augment ground troops. The Predator has proved invaluable to the U.S. military in its war in Iraq.

According to Defense Agency sources, visual intelligence from North Korea could be gathered from a UAV flying within Japan’s ADIZ. It would be able to detect ballistic missile launches and other vital information that could be transmitted to state-of-the-art Aegis destroyers that would form the backbone of Japan’s missile defense system.

The Defense Agency began studying the possibility of producing a domestic UAV in fiscal 2003. So far, about Y2.4bn has been allocated for that purpose. When Defense Agency officials started their research, they said foreign-made UAVs would not be appropriate for use in Japan. Since several UAVs have crashed in Iraq, some experts expressed concern about the safety of such flights over Japan.

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