[rizzn’s note: the market is really starting to open up for UAV’s. Look at this article out of Japan!]

Agency to develop unmanned aircraft
The Asahi Shimbun

The Self-Defense Forces will also be equipped with `smart’ bombs in fiscal 2004.

The Defense Agency in fiscal 2004 will start full-scale development of an unmanned surveillance aircraft and introduce satellite-guided “smart” bombs on Air Self-Defense Force fighters, officials said.

The multipurpose unmanned jet and the smart bombs made possible by the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) system were extensively used by the U.S. military in the Afghan and Iraq wars.

“Japan must also respond to the great leap in the advancement of military technology worldwide,” a Defense Agency official said.

The unmanned jet will be deployed in fiscal 2009, according to the officials. Total development costs are estimated at 9 billion yen, and the agency is seeking 300 million yen in next year’s budget.

A prototype has already been completed at the agency’s Technical Research and Development Institute.

The unmanned aircraft, about 5 meters in length, will be launched in midair from an F-15 fighter. It will have a cruising range of several hundred kilometers at an altitude of 10,000 meters.

The agency plans to use the aircraft in surveillance missions over the Sea of Japan to spot and trace suspicious ships.

The unmanned jet will contain high-resolution reconnaissance imagery equipment, but could also be equipped with radio-jamming or attack capabilities-a point of potential contention in connection with Japan’s “defense-only” policy.

In the Iraq war, the U.S. Air Force deployed the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle carrying infrared cameras and the Predator system that can carry and fire missiles.

Such aircraft do not require the safety features needed for manned missions.

The JDAM system will be loaded on F-2 fighters, featuring 500-pound (225-kilogram) bombs equipped with a U.S.-developed guidance system.

Once released, the bomb is guided to its target by the U.S. military’s global positioning system.

Agency officials have requested 1.2 billion yen in the fiscal 2004 budget for the JDAM system, saying such bombs would be needed to attack the front lines of an invading enemy.

The necessity of the system, however, will likely be questioned because this year’s defense white paper rated the possibility of Japan being invaded as low.(IHT/Asahi: September 23,2003)