China, Japan step up drone race as tension over disputed Senkaku islands increases

London, Jan 9: Drones have taken the centre stage in the growing arms race between China and Japan, as they struggle to assert their claim over disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

China is rapidly expanding its n drone programme, while Japan has begun preparations to purchase an advanced model from the United States.

Both sides claim the drones will be used for surveillance, but experts warn the possibility of future drone skirmishes in the region’s airspace is ‘very high’, the Guardian reports.

According to the report, tensions over the islands, called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan, have ratcheted up in past weeks.

Chinese surveillance planes flew near the islands four times in the second half of December, according to Chinese state media, but were chased away each time by Japanese F-15 fighter jets, with neither side showing signs of backing down.

Soon after becoming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has placed priority on countering the Chinese threat over the islands, ordered a review of Japan’s 2011-16 mid-term defence programme, apparently to speed up the acquisition of between one and three US drones.

China too had late last month announced that the People’s Liberation Army was preparing to test-fly a domestically developed drone, which analysts said is likely a clone of the US’s carrier-based X-47B.

China unveiled eight new models in November at an annual air show on the southern coastal city Zhuhai, photographs of which appeared prominently in the state-owned press.

The need for Japan to improve its surveillance capability was underlined late last year when Japanese radar failed to pick up a low-flying Chinese aircraft as it flew over the islands.

The Kyodo news agency quoted an unnamed defence ministry official as saying that the drones would be used ‘to counter China’s growing assertiveness at sea, especially when it comes to the Senkaku islands’, the report added. (ANI)