Japans may scrap its plan to buy three U.S.-made Global Hawk large unmanned surveillance aircraft for deployment in fiscal 2021, it was learned Thursday.
The government is reconsidering the plan and will soon make a decision, which could be the cancellation of the purchase, according to informed sources.
It is the second time for Japan to review a procurement deal under Washington’s Foreign Military Sales program, following the recent decision to scrap the plan to deploy the U.S.-made Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system.
The latest rethink appears to be part of Tokyo’s efforts to slash government spending and optimize its defense capability as the security situation surrounding Japan is changing rapidly.
The move was prompted by a U.S. Air Force proposal to retire its Block 30 and Block 20 Global Hawk aircraft in its fiscal 2021 budget request.
“The retirement will leave Japan and South Korea the only countries with Block 30 aircraft,” a source said. “Fewer aircraft obviously means higher maintenance costs.”
However, the U.S. Congress is putting a halt to the retirement plan with a proposed national defense authorization act. The Japanese government is closely monitoring related developments.
Also behind the Japanese review are higher purchase costs and a change in the country’s defense vision, sources said.
The total cost of the three Global Hawk planes was estimated at about ¥51 billion ($480 million) in 2014, when the government decided on the purchase. But Washington told Tokyo in 2017 that the cost would rise by 23 percent.
Tokyo initially planned to use the Global Hawks to strengthen its surveillance against North Korea and over remote islands.
The planes would be useful to some extent in monitoring the reclusive country. But they would be of little use in emergency situations involving China, which has a strong air defense capability. Additionally, a Global Hawk was shot down by Iran in June last year.
“We can’t put such expensive planes at risk of being shot down. They’re not good for surveillance over the ocean, so there wouldn’t be much use for them,” another source said.
Scrapping the purchase plan will save maintenance costs, but the government would be criticized as it has already paid some of the procurement costs.