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Japan to propose underwater drones to monitor East China Sea

By Elizabeth Shim
Japan to propose underwater drones to monitor East China Sea
Japan's defense ministry wants to step up underwater surveillance in the East China Sea, according to multiple Japanese press reports. File Photo by MC1 Michael Russell/U.S. Navy | License Photo

Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Large underwater drones may roam the East China Sea if Japanese plans to deter Chinese vessels near the Senkaku Islands are ratified by Japan's Cabinet.

Tokyo wants to introduce unmanned underwater vehicles into territorial waters in order to step up monitoring activities, Kyodo News reported Monday.

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The deployment is part of revisions to the defense ministry's medium-term defense plan, according to the report.

The plan has only been revised four times since 1976, and the medium-term defense plan is drafted every five years.

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In 2017, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had called for revisions to the midterm plan in response to North Korea's missile provocations and Chinese incursions into Japan-claimed waters.

Japan's defense agency is to release its 2019-23 midterm plan in December, according to the report.

"The next medium-term plan includes measures for securing high-level border surveillance on remote islands, and introducing and arranging major equipment to strengthen defense," Kyodo's government source said, adding a Cabinet vote on the plan will take place Dec. 18.

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If the plan is confirmed, Japan's defense forces can begin tests in 2021 of stealth sonar that will be installed on the drone equipment, according to Kyodo.

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The drones are likely to be positioned around the Ryukyu Islands, where Chinese naval vessels have been seen en route to the Pacific Ocean.

Tokyo Shimbun reported Monday the equipment will come with "high alert capabilities" and can also be used to monitor Chinese submarines.

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Yomiuri Shimbun reported in June the defense ministry asked Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to develop an unmanned submarine for deployment in 2022, for about $35 million.

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