TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan plans to develop a large underwater drone that automatically navigates in the sea to collect information, amid China's military expansion and assertiveness in regional waters, a government source said Sunday.
The Defense Ministry has decided to mention the plan aimed at beefing up capabilities to guard remote islands, in its policy document covering the five years from April 2019 that outlines Japan's defense capabilities.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet aims to approve the defense policy document in mid-December, according to the source.
The necessity has been increasing for Japan to strengthen defenses around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as Beijing, which calls the uninhabited islets Diaoyu, has been aggressively pressing its ownership claims.
The Mid-Term Defense Program will say that Japan needs to develop "unmanned diving machine" technology that is "adaptable to various missions including surveillance," the source said.
With this policy direction, the ministry will start working toward the development of an underwater drone that is over 10 meters in length.
Final arrangements are currently being made for the new midterm policy and revisions to the country's National Defense Program Guidelines to be approved together by the Cabinet on Dec. 18, several government sources said.
The guidelines, which were last approved in 2013, set out Japan's desired defense posture over the span of about 10 years, while the midterm program more specifically explains defense spending and procurement plans.
The ministry also views it as necessary to develop an underwater drone due to a chronic shortage of Japanese Self-Defense Forces personnel.
But as the technology advances such a drone could be turned into a powerful weapon equipped with torpedoes, which may cause public concern.
The new guidelines are also expected to state that Japan needs to promote "unmanned equipment."
For the development, the ministry will conduct demonstration experiments to detect sound waves in a huge water tank at a facility in Iwakuni in the country's southwestern prefecture of Yamaguchi.
The test facility will be operated in fiscal 2021 at the earliest, although the timing for the start of development is not known.