The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) has selected the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) MQ-9B SeaGuardian unmanned air vehicle for its Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Project.

Operations are to commence in October 2022, says GA-ASI.

GA-ASI SeaGuardian

The SeaGuardian variant of the MQ-9 is optimised for maritime surveillance.

The aircraft will support a range of JCG missions including surveillance, search and rescue, disaster response, and law enforcement.

GA-ASI had previously dispatched an MQ-9B to Japan in 2020 to demonstrate the capabilities of the platform for maritime surveillance. This followed a previous trial in 2018.

“We’re proud to support the JCG’s maritime surveillance mission with our SeaGuardian UAS,” says GA-ASI chief executive Linden Blue.

“The system’s ability to provide affordable, extremely long-endurance airborne surveillance with long-range sensors in the maritime domain is unprecedented.”

GA-ASI provides few details of the programme, such as the value of the agreement or the number of aircraft to be procured. Aircraft numbers could be substantial: in late 2018 GA-ASI told FlightGlobal that the JCG might require “a good-sized fleet”, given the coverage area.

GA-ASI says that SeaGuardian incorporates a range of sensors, including a surface-search radar with an inverse synthetic aperture radar imaging mode, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver allowing it to identify ships, and a high-definition, full motion video sensor with optical and infrared cameras.

“This sensor suite enables real-time detection and identification of surface vessels over thousands of square nautical miles and provides automatic tracking of maritime targets and correlation of AIS transmitters with radar tracks,” says GA-ASI.

GA-ASI did not state the surface-search radar that the JCG will use, but the 2020 work involved the use of Raytheon’s SeaVue system.

Tokyo faces an increasing challenging maritime domain. In addition to dealing with territorial disputes with Beijing over islands in the East China Sea, it must also monitor fisheries and stay alert for smuggling activity involving North Korea.

Cirium Fleets data indicates that Japan Coast Guard has 87 in-service aviation assets, most of which are helicopters.