TOKYO -- Japan plans to use drones to enhance its maritime surveillance capabilities. The government sees the technology, to be introduced on a test basis in 2018, as a way to better respond to natural disasters and improve security around remote islands.
The Ministry of Defense and the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center are working to deploy two high-altitude, long-range drones, which would be used in tandem with an existing monitoring system that uses an intelligence-gathering satellite.
The drones would cruise over designated areas of the ocean at an altitude of greater than 15km -- a height at which they would be unaffected by weather -- for up to 72 hours. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the project in 2012 and is currently developing engines and monitoring equipment for the aircraft.
The government expects the combination of drones and satellite surveillance to improve the country's ability to monitor weather and ships in and around Japanese territorial waters, as well as boost its response capabilities in the event of disasters and contingencies around uninhabited islands.
The plan comes at a time when China is expanding its maritime presence. The intrusion of Chinese vessels into Japanese waters, especially around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, has Tokyo wary.