Japan’s fleet of maritime patrol aircraft may be donning a new paint scheme that will make planes flying missions harder to spot.

The 80 P-3C aircraft operated by the maritime agency now are gray and white. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Yoshitaka Hirano said that could be switched to a low-visibility gray paint scheme.

The new paint scheme will undergo a test period first, however, to determine if air traffic controllers have any difficulties spotting the four-engine aircraft as they land and take off from bases in the country.

Except for mission-related avionics, the P-3C is similar to the U.S. Navy version. That version is flown by patrol squadrons deployed on six-month stints to Misawa Air Base in northern Honshu, and from a detachment at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

Japan watches its territorial waters using the U.S.-designed P-3C planes in roles including anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare and photo reconnaissance.

Last December, the Japanese Coast Guard sunk a ship from North Korea thought to be running drugs. U.S. intelligence helped Japan track the ship; a JMSDF P-3C provided intelligence specialists with photography of the incident.

This month a P-3C painted in the new color scheme was placed with the JMSDF’s 4th Wing at Atsugi Naval Air Facility near Tokyo.

Early next year, two additional newly painted aircraft will be assigned to the JMSDF base at Kanoya in Kagoshima Prefecture as test cases.

If air traffic controllers have no qualms about the new color schemes, all P-3Cs will be repainted beginning next April, Hirano said, a program that should take two years to complete.

Following years of debate, Hirano said, the JMSDF’s Air Wing command has ordered its squadrons to disband the custom of placing squadron artwork on tails of its assigned aircraft.

“MSDF airplanes change stations often and each time they have to change the tail arts,” he said. “It is troublesome.”

When art has to be applied to tails, aircraft must be taken out of service and the cost of the artwork no longer can be justified, he said.

Also set to be modified is unit lettering and placement of Japan’s national symbol, which is painted on fuselages of all JMSDF aircraft.

They will be reduced in size so that they cannot be detected easily by enemies, Hirano added.

Hiroshi Chida contributed to this report.

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