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Japan Tempted by Israeli Drone Offer, But Must Consider US, Too

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Japan Tempted by Israeli Drone Offer, But Must Consider U.S. Too (excerpt)

(Source: The Asahi Shimbun; published July 20, 2016)

Japan is caught between a rock and a hard place in deciding whether to go with U.S. or Israeli technology in its purchase of next-generation drones for aerial surveillance.

The rock, of course, is the United States with which Japan has an iron-clad security alliance. The hard place is Israel, meaning that the product on offer is of great interest to Japan's Defense Ministry--although there are concerns that dealing with Tel Aviv in military matters could invite an unwanted backlash.

The natural choice for Japan is to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the United States, its long-time military ally.

However, the Global Hawk UAV that the Pentagon has pitched to Tokyo comes with costly maintenance obligations.

Israel has a long history in developing UAVs and is able to provide the SDF with relatively inexpensive equipment as part of a joint development project.

This puts Japan in an awkward position as it is clearly tempted by the Israeli technology but fearful of the diplomatic consequences that would inevitably ensue if it strengthened ties with a nation that many Arabs in the Middle East consider a sworn enemy.

Still, Defense Ministry officials showed considerable interest in what Israel has to offer at Eurosatory 2016, one of the world's largest weapons fairs, which was held June 13-17 in Paris.

For the first time, the Defense Ministry's Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency set up a booth at the exhibition where 1,500 or so companies from more than 50 nations exhibited their wares.

Midway through the exhibition, on the morning of June 15, a closed-door meeting was held between Toru Hocchi, who heads the equipment policy department at the agency, and a high-ranking official of the Israeli Defense Ministry. Japanese officials were interested in the Heron TP UAV developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

A source close to the discussions said that Israel pointed to the advantages of the Heron as a joint manufacturing project with Japan. Drones would not be equipped with a black box that prevents Japan getting its hands on sensitive technological data. Japan would also be able to install its own sensors. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the Asahi Shimbun website.