YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. defense contractors sense that there’s money to be made out of Japan’s decision to expand the role of its military amid Chinese aggression in the East China Sea.
Aerospace companies Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin held a joint news conference Thursday in Tokyo touting RQ-4 Global Hawk and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye surveillance planes as potential additions to the Japanese Air Self Defense Force.
A national security strategy, approved by Japan’s cabinet in December, calls for better air and maritime surveillance. Last month, the ruling coalition adopted a resolution that will allow the nation’s armed forces to defend the country’s allies in combat for the first time in the post-World War II era.
The measures are, in part, a response to Chinese claims to the Senkakus (known as Diaoyu in China). The Japanese-controlled islands and their surrounding waters in the East China Sea are thought to encompass large reserves of natural gas.
The islands have been the site of confrontations between Chinese and Japanese ships and aircraft and are within an “air-defense identification zone” declared by China last year.
If Japan wants to keep tabs on the sea and air space around its country, there’s no better way than with the Global Hawk and Advanced Hawkeye, the U.S. contractors told Japanese reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
The aircraft’s sensors, along with those on Lockheed’s F-35 jet fighters — which Japan has already committed to buying — could provide vital information about potential threats, the contractors said.
The U.S. Navy already has bought 25 Advanced Hawkeyes, which will operate from the decks of its aircraft carriers. The first recently arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, and the aircraft will be fielded to U.S. units in Japan in 2017, Northrop spokeswoman Kirsti Dunn said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Global Hawks began flying out of Misawa Air Base in Japan this summer.
Asked to assess the contractors’ sales pitches, former Air Force officer Ralph Cossa, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Hawaii, said there are cost and interoperability considerations for using the U.S. equipment.
From the bottom-line standpoint, it would cost Japan four times as much to build its own surveillance systems, he told Stars and Stripes.
“We are prepared to sell them stuff that we don’t sell most other folks,” Cossa said.
Information sharing is a big part of the U.S.-Japan alliance, he said.
“As they move toward collective defense, that is another thing they could contribute short of boots on the ground,” he added.
Brad Hicks, vice president of radar programs at Lockheed’s Mission Systems and Sensors business, told the conference that the radar on the E-2D, built by his company, can detect advanced threats. He noted that 800 foreign aircraft violated Japan’s airspace last year.
“ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) is a country’s first line of defense,” he said. “ISR makes it possible for authorities to have detailed information about events that threaten security.”
The E-2D is designed to operate in concert with Lockheed’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, Hicks said.
Japan has six destroyers equipped with the system. Its national security strategy calls for two more to be added by 2020.
Decision-makers need reliable data from a variety of sensors that can be quickly collated and presented to them in a form they can use, said Hicks, a retired Navy rear admiral.
It is better for Japan to do that with the U.S. rather than alone, he said, noting that the seas in North Asia are a complex environment.
“There is a lot going on out there,” he said. “There are thousands of objects, fishing boats, merchant traffic, oil rigs. Maintaining awareness of not just the airspace but what is going on on the maritime surface is very important to Japan.”
The loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 — thought to have gone down in the Indian Ocean — shows what happens when authorities don’t have awareness, he said.
Surveillance planes can also be used for fisheries management, commercial shipping monitoring, drug interdiction and scientific studies, Hicks added.
Jeff Remmington, Northrop’s liaison to the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, said Japan needs a layered ISR system that combines signals and human intelligence with imagery from a variety of sensors.
Japan should take advantage of $3.6 billion that the U.S. government already has invested in the Advanced Hawkeye, added the former Air Force lieutenant general.
The potential for allies in the Pacific, several of which are, like Japan, looking to boost their surveillance capabilities, to operate the same systems and share information is huge, he said.
“Imagine what you can do with the Global Hawk from the U.S., Japan and (South) Korea, the Triton (a maritime version of the Global Hawk) from the U.S. and Australia and the E2D from the U.S. and Japan?” he said.
Mark Skinner, a vice president in Northrop’s Aerospace Systems sector, said allies are stronger when they share information smoothly across all their sensors and platforms in a given theater.
The former Navy vice admiral said acquisition of the Global Hawk and Advanced Hawkeye by Japan would demonstrate trust in the alliance and allow both nations to share costs.