Based on the current MDBP, the Global Hawk system will be operated by a joint organization. As to the actual implementation of this, the responsibility of the Joint Staff Office has been ambiguous. Does the Joint Staff Office directly command the system? Or does the Headquarters of Defense Intelligence (DIH) command it? Moreover, the manner in which the information collected by the system is managed is also unclear. Responsibility regarding the command and management of the Global Hawk must be decided soon.
As for the actual operation of U.S. HALE drone systems, the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence organizations have requested to oversee aspects of intelligence, while the U.S. Air Force oversees the piloting of the drone systems per each intelligence agency request. This clear distinction of roles and missions suggests a potential model for Japan’s use of drones and highlights the country’s current lack of an operational principle. Theoretically, intelligence requirements for the use of Global Hawk systems should be handled by intelligence organizations such as the DIH, while the ASDF should oversee the flights of Global Hawk drones much like their U.S. counterparts, with the Joint Staff Office being responsible for the overall operations of the drones. At this time, however, ASDF pilots may not clearly understand orders from each intelligence organization because of the lack of an operational principle. This lack of clarity could place a heavy burden on ASDF pilots.
With regard to existing domestic laws pertaining to drone use in Japan, relevant legislation includes the Civil Aeronautics Act, the Aircraft Manufacturing Industry Law, and the Radio Law.4 Unfortunately, these have not been revised to match the current situation. For that reason, there are many issues regarding the actual implementation of drone systems. Under the Civil Aeronautics Act, the definition of an aircraft is one with a human on board for aeronautical use. By this definition, a HALE drone would not be legally regarded as an aircraft because it does not have a human on board. The two forms of undefined aircraft the Civil Aeronautics Act specifies are an airplane without a human on board and a model airplane.
Flight of an airplane without a human on board is approved by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, with legal restrictions in support of flight safety. For example, any airplane without a human on board must submit flight plans in the same manner as an airplane with a human on board. In practice, however, the restrictions for the Global Hawk are not effective because of the lack of regulation in operational space. Global Hawks generally fly out of territorial space, with domestic laws being effective only in territorial space. The requirements of registration and flight safety have limited impact on model airplanes, which are not required to have flight plans below 250 meters because this range is out of the air control area for commercial aircraft.
The Aircraft Manufacturing Industry Law defines drone systems by the same standard. Per the enforcement ordinance, a drone is defined as a model airplane weighing more than 100 kilograms. The requirements for registration and safety are also the same as those for model airplanes as defined by the Civil Aeronautics Act, with similarly limiting effectiveness. It is necessary to revise these domestic laws to maintain flight safety with exceptions for defensive purposes.
Finally, the Radio Law should be revised, particularly with regard to its frequency band assignment. All frequency bands are designated by a Radio Law. Generally, there is no proper frequency band for drone systems – even for defensive drone systems operated by the JSDF – and there are no plans in place to address this issue. Broadband network is necessary for the heavy data exchange between airborne Global Hawks and ground control systems. In this context, it is necessary to gain a new band; however, it is very difficult to renew bands in Japan. To get a new band, it may be necessary to develop new measures of data transmission using a concept such as fiber-optic measure.
Japan is procuring a small number of Global Hawks but will ideally use the United States’ Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program to maintain logistical support for the system. While Japan could primarily handle “front-line maintenance,” U.S. contractors could more efficiently do regular inspections or larger repairs. This outsourcing is largely due to the fact that the key element of the Global Hawk system is the electronic equipment behind its sensor system. Maintaining Japan’s Global Hawk fleet in accordance with U.S. standards would thus optimize efficiency as well as the capacity for interoperability.5
On the other hand, relying solely on FMS for Global Hawk maintenance would be far too expensive and could negatively impact Japan’s capacity for responsibly maintaining its own systems. With this in mind, Japan should refer to how regional depots are used for F-35 maintenance as a model to follow.