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General Atomics pushes Guardian to Japan

29th March 2017 - 04:50 GMT | by Koji Miyake in Tokyo

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During a presentation at the Japan Drone 2017 exhibition on 23 March, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) disclosed that it is proposing the Guardian maritime patrol platform to both the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) and the Japan Coast Guard (JCG).

At the same venue, GA-ASI announced that it had executed a research collaboration agreement in Japan to speed up approval for MALE UAVs to fly in Japanese airspace.

Japan's aviation regulations have greatly hindered the introduction of UAVs into Japan, including for the Japan Self-Defence Force and the JCG. This has curtailed their ability to operate such unmanned aircraft.

GA-ASI has thus been cooperating with a consortium containing industry, government and academic groups to smooth the approval process for flights in non-segregated airspace. Indeed, the partnership hopes to garner the first civil MALE UAV flight approval in Japan.

David R. Alexander, president of aircraft systems at GA-ASI, said, 'The expertise arising from this collaboration in air traffic control, communications technology and operations will help drive our efforts to validate Japanese airspace integration concepts for our Guardian aircraft and other RPA.'

He added, 'Local partnerships and their contributions in gaining RPA acceptance in Japanese civil airspace is the first major step in validating these concepts.'

Such approval will obviously pave the way for GA-ASI to sell platforms such as the Guardian ER, especially when it is considered that Japan has an EEZ of 4.47 million km², the sixth largest in the world.

The JCG owns only 74 aircraft, which is an insufficient amount to monitor such a vast oceanic area. Furthermore, the JMSDF has not been proactive in introducing UAVs for offshore monitoring either.

Japan's Ministry of Defence is buying three Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft, and introduction of the IAI Heron TP from Israel, integrated with Japanese sensors, is also being considered as a complement.

However, there is concern that acquisition of a MALE UAV from Israel will have a negative impact on relations with Arab countries and the US. This means there is room for American companies such as GA-ASI to gain entry into the Japanese defence market.

Later this year, GA-ASI will conduct a demonstration of its technologies to several Japanese agencies.

Koji Miyake

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Koji Miyake


Koji Miyake is a Tokyo-based writer.

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