Japan plans to deploy imported unmanned spy planes in the fiscal year from April 2007, its defense chief was quoted as saying yesterday, amid growing concern over China and North Korea.
The planes could gather intelligence on missiles as soon as they are launched and monitor hostile vessels and planes, Kyodo News Agency quoted Defense Agency Director-General Fukushiro Nukaga as saying on a visit to London.
Japan, which has been officially pacifist since World War II, is developing its own spy plane amid criticism that its policymakers are too dependent on US intelligence on foreign military activity.
Japan needs at least a decade to produce its own spy planes but wants to put an unspecified number of them into use in the 2007 fiscal year, news reports quoted Nukaga as saying.
"[The spy planes] will be imported so it [sic] can be introduced as soon as possible," Nukaga said, as quoted by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper's Web site.
Japan will almost certainly buy the planes from the US, although Nukaga said Tokyo will also send a research mission to Germany and Italy.
North Korea shocked the world in 1998 by firing a missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. Japan and the US have since worked on developing a missile shield.
Tension has also been growing with China over historical memories and a disputed gasfield, where Beijing dispatched warships in September. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said last month that China was becoming a military threat.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government hopes to amend the US-imposed 1947 Constitution to allow Japan to maintain a military rather than "Self-Defense Forces," while retaining the nation's official pacifism.