Japan starts operations with SeaGuardian drone, receives two Hawkeyes

The Japanese Coast Guard has started operations with a newly delivered MQ-9B SeaGuardian drone, while more airborne early warning aircraft have arrived in the country by ship.

The UAV’s manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, said in a news release that the Coast Guard commenced flight operations with a SeaGuardian from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Air Station Hachinohe on Oct. 19.

The American company said the high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft “will primarily perform Maritime Wide Area Search (MWAS) over the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. Other missions will include search and rescue, disaster response, and maritime law enforcement.”

Photographs from plane-spotters in northern Japan showed the SeaGuardian carrying Japan Coast Guard markings along with the U.S. civilian registration N467SG, which was used for flight testing from General Atomics’ facility in the United States prior to delivery.

“SeaGuardian is the world’s premier asset for performing MWAS,” said Robert Schoeffling, vice president of international strategic development at GA-ASI. “We’re proud to support the Government of Japan’s policy to strengthen its maritime security.”

General Atomics announced in April 2022 that the Coast Guard had selected the SeaGuardian for an unmanned aircraft acquisition program. The selection followed validation trials involving the drone in Japan in 2020.

It’s unclear how many SeaGuardians were ordered.

The SeaGuardian features a multimode maritime surface-search radar with an inverse synthetic-aperture radar imaging mode, and an automatic identification system receiver. It is fully compliant with STANAG-4671, which is NATO’s airworthiness standard for unmanned aircraft, and it features a collision-avoidance radar to enable operations in civil airspace.

Hawkeyes by sea

Meanwhile, a pair of Northrop Grumman-made airborne early warning aircraft destined for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force arrived in the western part of the country following a voyage across the Pacific Ocean by ship.

The E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, part of an order for 13 by Japan under the United States’ Foreign Military Sales program, arrived at the port next to Marine Combat Air Station Iwakuni onboard the Ocean Gladiator cargo ship Oct. 18.

The Hawkeyes are to be moved by road to the air base, which hosts aircraft of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. They will then prepare to head to Misawa in northern Japan.

Iwakuni’s port is co-located with the air base and has enabled “the dynamic transportation of various military assets between sea and shore,” according to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service website, which is run by the U.S. Defense Department.

The deliveries bring the number of E-2Ds sent to Japan to five. The Japan Air Self-Defense Force currently operates 13 older E-2C Hawkeyes and four E-767 airborne early warning aircraft at Misawa and Hamamatsu, respectively.

Four of the E-2Cs are assigned to a detachment based at Naha Air Base on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, where they have been used to monitor increased Chinese air activity in the East China Sea.

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