Japan, US to up surveillance of disputed islands

The Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

JAPAN - In response to China's declaration of an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea that includes the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, the Japanese and US governments have confirmed that the Self-Defence Forces and US forces will cooperate to strengthen warning and surveillance activities over the sea.

To block China's move to change the status quo by force, which Japan and the United States consider to be an unacceptable unilateral action, the SDF plans to set up a new permanent unit of the Air-Self Defence Force's early-warning E-2C aircraft at Naha Base in the prefecture, and expand deployment of the Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance drone.

At a press conference Thursday, Shigeru Iwasaki, chief of the SDF Joint Staff, told reporters he spoke by videophone Wednesday with Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the US Pacific Command.

"I was told that US forces wouldn't change their policy concerning warning and surveillance activities in the region [meaning they wouldn't refrain from flying over the region]. It was a very close exchange of information," Iwasaki said at the press conference.

Iwasaki and Locklear likely exchanged specific opinions on strengthening the warning and surveillance activities, according to the sources.

The SDF will launch "the second airborne warning and surveillance unit" at Naha Base in fiscal 2014, and will use some of the E-2C aircraft deployed at the ASDF's Misawa Base in Aomori Prefecture, on a full-time mission for warning and surveillance in the East China Sea.

With these plans in mind, the Defence Ministry plans to include its policy to introduce a successor aircraft to the E-2C in fiscal 2015 in the new National Defence Program Guidelines the government will compile in December, and the midterm defence buildup programme.

The successor aircraft to the E-2C could be a Boeing E-737 with a state-of-the-art on-board radar that can be refueled in the air, the sources said.

E-2C aircraft cannot be refueled in the air and can conduct warning and surveillance activities around the Senkaku Islands for only about four hours. The introduction of E-737s would make it possible for the SDF to conduct longer missions.

US forces currently deploy the Global Hawk in Guam, which also conducts warning and surveillance activities around Japan. US forces intend to deploy Global Hawk aircraft at US Misawa Base as early as next spring to significantly increase warning and surveillance activities around Japan, including the Senkaku Islands.

The ASDF also intends to adopt the Global Hawk in fiscal 2015 to share information with US forces and conduct effective warning and surveillance in and around Japan.

Developed by Northrop Grumman, the Global Hawk can spot a target on the ground through infrared sensors and other functions while flying at an altitude of more than 18,000 meters. It can keep on flying for more than 30 hours but does not have attack capability like the Predator and other unmanned reconnaissance aircraft.