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In an envisioned Middle East mission, the government is considering having a Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol plane mainly cover the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, officials have said.

The P-3C patrol plane, which gathers information of sea areas from the air, will operate mainly over the Persian Gulf and the eastern side of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen to avoid any antiaircraft threats, according to the officials.

The government plans to dispatch a destroyer and utilize one of the two planes currently engaged in antipiracy operations from Djibouti, in the planned mission to secure sea lane safety under the Act for Establishment of the Ministry of Defense.

The government hopes to decide on the mission during a Cabinet meeting to be held on Dec. 20.

The government has listed the Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Arabian Sea and the eastern side of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait as possible areas of the mission.

But it concluded that P-3C operations over the Gulf of Oman, which borders the southern part of Iran, would face serious threats from counterair weapons and combat drones, after a U.S. surveillance drone was shot down by Iran in June this year, the sources said.

Also taking the P-3C plane’s flight range into consideration, the government views the Gulf of Aden as an appropriate option, according to the sources.

The government is looking into whether there are any safety problems concerning operations over the eastern side of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait near Somalia.

P-3C planes sometimes descend to lower elevations to confirm details of suspicious vessels when operating in an area, so portable antiaircraft weapons on ships may be a threat.

The U.S. military is calling on other countries to cooperate in protecting commercial ships in the strait, which is a key sea lane connecting Asia and Europe, and other sea areas.

The MSDF destroyer and patrol plane will not only collect information on threats in the sea areas but check safe routes and the status of satellite communications to prepare for the possibility of protecting Japanese commercial vessels in maritime security operations.

The P-3C plane could take on the mission within the year ahead of the destroyer’s dispatch at the beginning of 2020.

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