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​GA ASI eyes “good-sized” potential for parapublic RPAs in Japan

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA ASI) is intent on a potential Japan Coast Guard deal for the MQ-9B Guardian remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) to monitor the nation’s ocean frontiers.

In a recent interview with FlightGlobal, the company’s vice-president of international strategic development Joseph Song highlighted that UAVs will play an increasing role in monitoring the region’s seas.

“Everybody is worried about the maritime domain, especially in Asia-Pacific given what's happening with disputed islands [in North Asia] and in the South China Sea,” he says.

“Tensions are high. If you look at the fleet of manned maritime aircraft, there are not enough aircraft and helicopters that do ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance]. And not only that, their persistence is very short - relatively speaking.”

Song revealed more details about a series of 11 civilian demonstration flights the company conducted in May with a white and red painted MQ-9B from Japan’s Iki Island. The company invested $6 million in the work, which it hailed as “the first demonstration of a long-endurance RPA by a private company in Japan.”

The project required a range of approvals from government agencies pertaining to areas such as transmission frequencies and flight planning. A chase plane was also required. The project, among other things, demonstrated the aircraft’s ability to monitor shipping activity, with a focus on spotting activities such as illegal fishing, the harvesting of endangered corals, and smuggling.

“Our primary focus was the coast guard,” says Song. “The coast guard has a civil mission, and they need to interdict ships.”

Song declined to discuss details of any potential deal, but believes if the coast guard moves forward Tokyo will need “a good-sized fleet” given the coverage area. Japanese coast guard representatives have also visited the USA’s Customs and Border Protection to learn how this agency is using its fleet of MQ-9 Predator Bs in parapublic missions.

Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that the Japan Coast Guard has 74 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Key types include the AgustaWestland AW139, Sikorsky S-76, and Bombardier/De Havilland Dash-8s equipped as maritime patrol aircraft.

On other programmes, Song declined to discuss reports that Tokyo is considering GA ASI’s Avenger to perform unmanned naval surveillance in the late 2020s.

On reports that India is interested in 70-100 Avengers, Song said government-to-government discussions are underway, but that the GA ASI is a “bystander.”

“We haven't gotten to the details...but they have submitted interest to USAF.”

Underlining GA-ASI’s interest in the Japanese market, the company recently announced that it is searching for industrial defence partners in Japan to collaborate on a variety of projects related to the sale of unmanned air vehicles for national security missions to the Japanese government.

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