An MQ-4C Triton taxis at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, April 29, 2020.

An MQ-4C Triton taxis at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, April 29, 2020. (Michael Murphy/U.S. Air Force)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. military drone presence on Okinawa is growing with the deployment of a pair of Navy MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance aircraft, according to the Japanese government.

The Guam-based Tritons will fly out of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, between this month and October, a spokeswoman for Okinawa prefecture’s Military Base Affairs Division said by phone Monday.

Some Japanese government officials may speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

The drones will “conduct intelligence missions in the Nansei region and its surrounding areas, strengthening surveillance and reconnaissance,” she said. The Nansei islands stretch from Kyushu — the southernmost of Japan’s main islands — to Taiwan.

China in recent years has stepped up challenges to its neighbors’ maritime claims in the East and South China seas. Its coast guard frequently enters waters claimed by Japan around the Senkakus.

U.S. military officials on Okinawa referred queries about the drones to U.S. 7th Fleet, based at Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo, which did not immediately respond to emailed questions Monday.

The date when the Tritons will arrive on Okinawa hasn’t been released, the Japanese official said.

The drones will have limited impact on Okinawans since they will mostly fly over water and make less noise than other Kadena aircraft, she said.

The Triton, made by U.S. aerospace company Northrop Grumman, has previously deployed to Misawa Air Base in northeastern Japan.

The drone looks like the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which has seen extensive service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the resemblance is skin deep.

The front edges of the Triton’s wings have been toughened to withstand bird strikes, while its electronics are designed to withstand power surges from lightning. The maritime drones’ stiff wings allow them to dive below 10,000 feet to get a closer look at floating targets.

The Tritons join eight Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drones that moved to Kadena late last year from Kanoya Air Base on Kyushu.

The Reapers and more than 150 airmen in the newly formed 319th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron spent a year at Kanoya, a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force base.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.

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