Japan Coast Guard Selects General Atomics SeaGuardian

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems announced on 6 April that its MQ-9B SeaGuardian has been selected to support the Japan Coast Guard’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Project.

Coast Guard operations of the SeaGuardian will begin in October 2022, with the drone used to conduct wide-area maritime surveillance of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, supporting a variety of JCG missions including search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, and disaster response. The Japan Coast Guard had previously conducted a series of flight trials with the SeaGuardian in 2020, validating the drone’s capability to carry out these missions.

“We’re proud to support the JCG’s maritime surveillance mission with our SeaGuardian UAS,” said Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI. “The system’s ability to provide affordable, extremely long-endurance airborne surveillance with long-range sensors in the maritime domain is unprecedented.”

Nippon Television reported earlier this month that the Japan Coast Guard had decided to go ahead with introducing the SeaGuardian into service, with approximately 4 billion yen budgeted for acquiring one SeaGuardian. According to the report, SeaGuardian will be based at the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s Hachinohe Air Base in Aomori Prefecture, which previously hosted the SeaGuardian during the 2020 trials. The Japan Coast Guard will be forming a specialized 13-person team for operating the SeaGuardian.

The SeaGuardian is a version of General Atomics’ SkyGuardian specialized for maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions through mission-specific sensors, such as a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with an Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) imaging mode, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver, and High-Definition – Full-Motion Video sensor equipped with optical and infrared cameras. The “bolt-on/bolt-off” sensor suite facilitates real-time detection and identification of surface vessels over thousands of square nautical miles, and is capable of providing automatic tracking of maritime targets and correlating AIS transmitters with radar tracks. The SeaGuardian can also be outfitted with anti-submarine warfare capabilities in the form of sonobuoy dispensers, with General Atomics announcing in January 2021 that it had completed development and testing of the SeaGuardian’s anti-submarine warfare package.  

The selection of the SeaGuardian by the Japan Coast Guard also follows the in-country arrival of the Japan Air Self Defense Force’s first RQ-4B Global Hawk, which arrived at its new home base of Misawa Air Base, also in Aomori Prefecture, on March 12 following a non-stop transpacific flight.