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Japan To Acquire 3 Hawk Surveillance Drones

Japan is seeking to boost its military capabilities by acquiring three Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft from the United States, media reports quoting sources in the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces said on Sunday.

With the acquisition, Japan hopes to counter China's military surge and North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Tokyo also plans to use them to assist in defending distant islands and to intercept suspicious ships in or near Japanese territorial waters.

The Defense Ministry hopes to include the plan in the fiscal 2011-2015 new Mid-Term Defense Program, which will be based on a new National Defense Program Outline the government is poised to adopt at the end of this year.

Global Hawks, equipped with sophisticated cameras and highly sensitive communications-receiving capabilities, can fly at an altitude of roughly 60,000 feet (18,000 meters)--nearly twice as high as commercial aircraft can-- for just over 30 hours on autopilot.

The UAVs, which do not have offensive capability, cost about $50 million each and the Japanese Defense Ministry estimates that it would cost tens of millions more to build the ground facilities to control the drones.

The report about the acquisition came as a dispute over the ownership of a chain of islands known as 'Senkaku,' ('Diaoyu' in China)--that are said to have vast oil and gas reserves--in the East China Sea saw diplomatic relations nose-dive between two Asian powers in recent weeks.

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