TOKYO, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Japan's Defense Ministry says it will investigate the use of high-flying surveillance drones to monitor activity in China and North Korea.
The ministry said it would send senior Self-Defense Forces officers to the United States to study how it uses and maintains the technologically advanced Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
The drones would enable the Japanese military to monitor the Chinese Navy's quickly growing activities in the seas around southern Japan and keep an eye on the volatile Korean Peninsula, officials said.
Drones are widely used by the United States and Britain in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and Germany was reportedly considering their use.
Japanese officials will make a decision on using the drones by the end of fiscal 2015, the newspaper said.
The Global Hawk used by the U.S. Air Force can fly at an altitude of more than 50,000 feet and, using high-performance sensors and radar, can monitor an area with a maximum radius of about 300 miles.
The drones can stay aloft about 30 hours before refueling. The cost is about $3.2 million each, not including monitoring equipment. The aircraft is about 45 feet long and has a wingspan of about 120 feet.
Japanese officials said three drones would be required to monitor sensitive areas.