Japan military urged to consider using drones

An interim report for the National Defence Program Guidelines, which will be revised by the government at the end of this year, proposes that the Self-Defence Forces study the introduction of state-of-the-art surveillance drones to counter China's increasing intimidation and provocations around Japan, it has been learned.

The interim report, which the Defence Ministry was to release officially on Friday, also urges the SDF to work closely with the United States and the private sector to enhance Japan's defence capability against cyber-attacks.

The National Defence Program Guidelines will stipulate basic security policy and SDF deployment for the next decade, outlining the number of its personnel and equipment. The guidelines have been revised three times so far since they were first compiled in 1976.

Midterm Defence Programs are created based on the guidelines, which stipulate the total amount of defence budgets and the number of fighter jets, destroyers and other equipment to be deployed over the next five fiscal years.

The interim report looks into whether the SDF has an appropriate defence capability in light of the security conditions surrounding Japan and makes proposals regarding which areas the SDF should focus on.

It urges the SDF to consider the introduction of unmanned surveillance aircraft that can fly higher than passenger aircraft for a long time, to allow constant surveillance activities over a wide area.

The reference is apparently aimed at countering China's heightened activities in areas surrounding Japanese airspace and waters, such as its repeated intrusions in the seas around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.

It is believed that the interim report makes the reference with an eye toward the possible purchase of Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks, which are stationed at US bases in Guam and other places. The unmanned aerial vehicle can fly at an altitude of 18,000 meters for more than 30 hours, spotting movements of vessels and aircraft.

To counter cyber-attacks, meanwhile, the interim report proposes that the SDF implement the latest measures by cooperating with private-sector companies and the United States, which has been enhancing its defence against cyber-attacks, particularly those by China. The report also proposes fostering specialists in this area.

In reference to enhancing the defence of the Senkakus and other remote islands, the interim report proposes that the SDF develop capabilities similar to those of the US Marine Corps.

To realise that, the SDF's transport capacity should be improved in cooperation with the private sector to allow flexible deployment of its troops.

The report also proposes that the SDF develop amphibious units that can perform landing operations from the seas.

The interim report, however, stops short of saying that the SDF should have strike capabilities to attack enemy bases.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has proposed including this in the revised National Defence Program Guidelines, apparently with North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs in mind.

Instead, the interim report only says the SDF should "upgrade its deterrent and intercepting capabilities against [North Korea's] ballistic missiles by improving its anti-ballistic-missile system in a comprehensive manner."

The interim report also calls for improving the SDF's capabilities to protect nuclear power plants and other critical facilities from possible guerrilla attacks.

It further urges the SDF to possess transportation capabilities sufficient to deploy troops quickly to areas hit by a large-scale disaster.

The interim report also proposes improving the SDF's intelligence abilities and the operational integration of its three forces, as well as promoting the use of outer space for its activities.