Amid tensions between Washington and Tehran, Tokyo despatched two P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to the Middle East on 11 January to carry out intelligence-gathering operations in the region aimed at helping ensure the safety of vessels conducting commercial operations with Japan.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) mission, which was approved by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on 27 December 2019, will also include the deployment to the region of Takanami-class destroyer JS Takanami , which is due to leave the Yokosuka naval base near Tokyo on 2 February.
The MPAs, which departed from Naha Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, are expected to begin their 11-month-long mission on 20 January while the warship will begin operations in the region in mid-February.
During the mission the aircraft will operate from Japan's base in Djibouti, where since 2009 other P-3C Orion MPAs have been deployed to hunt for pirates off the coast of Africa.
In late December the government in Tokyo announced that it would not join a US-led coalition to protect commercial vessels in the Middle East but pointed out that it would instead send JMSDF assets to the Gulf of Oman, the northern Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Aden.
Tokyo decided to avoid despatching the JMSDF to the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, which have been at the centre of the US-Iranian tensions in recent months.
The Japanese government stated that the main objective of the mission is to gather information to help ensure the safety of Japanese commercial ships in the region as well as to contribute to the protection of foreign ships providing goods from or to Japan.
"Ninety percent of the crude oil that Japan imports comes through Middle East waters. Therefore, it is extremely important for us to gather information to ensure that commercial shipping with links to Japan can safely navigate in the region," Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono was quoted by national broadcaster NHK as saying on 10 January.
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