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Two Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C aircraft were dispatched Thursday from Atsugi Air Base in Kanagawa Prefecture for an antipiracy mission off Somalia, marking the first overseas mission for the MSDF patrol planes.

Conducting surveillance flights out of Djibouti, the antisubmarine and maritime patrol planes will support two MSDF destroyers that have been patrolling for pirates in the Gulf of Aden since late March.

The dispatch, ordered by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada on May 15, came a day after the House of Councilors began deliberating legislation that would expand the antipiracy mission’s scope by enabling the Self-Defense Forces to protect foreign vessels unrelated to Japan.

The P-3Cs of the 3rd Air Patrol Squadron at Atsugi base are expected to begin patrol flights around mid-June using Djibouti International Airport as their operational base, the Defense Ministry said.

“The mission is an indispensable one to carry out the important duty of escorting ships that must be protected, and is therefore extremely important to our country,” Senior Vice Defense Minister Seigo Kitamura told about 100 mission personnel and their roughly 150 family members in a ceremony at the base.

The planes will patrol the gulf, where many commercial ships have come under pirate attack, and convey relevant information to the destroyers, Japanese-related ships and navy vessels of other countries patrolling the high seas, according to the ministry.

The air patrol operations will involve roughly 100 MSDF personnel, including the crew and engineers of the planes, and about 50 Ground Self-Defense Force members who will guard the aircraft with light arms at the airport or provide other services there.

The GSDF troops include members of the Central Readiness Regiment, which comprises the core of the GSDF’s Central Readiness Force and will be dispatched on its first mission abroad since it was established last year.

The Air Self-Defense Force will transport personnel and maintenance equipment to the airport using its C-130H transport aircraft, the ministry said.

Capt. Hiroshi Fukushima, commander of the air patrol unit dispatched Thursday, said before the ceremony that his unit intends to serve the antipiracy mission by closely working and sharing information with other countries involved in similar operations in the region.

Noting that pirates in the region are known to be well-armed, the captain said, “We’d like to fulfill our mission by fully grasping the types and qualities of weapons they possess.”

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