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US MQ-9 unit to redeploy from Kyushu to Okinawa

The deployment of US GA-ASI MQ-9s from Kyushu to Okinawa is expected to improve joint US-Japan reconnaissance capabilities near the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan. (US Air Force/Staff Sgt Christopher Broome)

The US military is redeploying a unit of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9s from Kyushu island to Okinawa to enhance intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations in southwest Japan.

The 319th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron (ERS) operates eight MQ-9s, according to information from the US Department of Defense (DoD). β€œWe can confirm that the US Pacific Air Forces plans to deploy MQ-9s and US personnel from Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kanoya Air Base to Kadena Air Base,” a spokesperson from the US Air Force's (USAF's) 18th Wing at Kadena told Janes.

The 319th ERS's initial mandate was one year of operations from Kanoya Air Base, on the southern tip of Kyushu island. However, the move to Okinawa has been prompted by rising concerns in the East China Sea, Japanese Minister of Defense Minoru Kihara said during a press conference on 10 October.

According to the US DoD, the MQ-9s have been conducting reconnaissance operations in close co-ordination with the Japan Ministry of Defense (MoD).

β€œThe activities of neighbouring countries have [increased], and there is also a need for information gathering in the sea and airspace around Japan's southwest region,” Kihara said. β€œThe deployment of US Air Force MQ-9s to Kadena Air Base will, first, provide easier access to the area and increase [the duration of] ISR operations in the face of current heightened concerns.”

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