By KUNIICHI TANIDA
An unmanned Ground Self-Defense Force surveillance aircraft crashed on a training range in Oita Prefecture late last year in an accident that was never disclosed publicly, The Asahi Shimbun has learned.
The incident came to light after a recent Asahi Shimbun interview with the Defense Ministry.
According to ministry officials, on Nov. 13, the GSDF flew a Boeing ScanEagle aircraft above the Hijiudai exercise ground to take aerial images of training exercises.
Measuring 1.3 meters long and weighing 13 kilograms, the drone suffered engine failure and crashed after operators were unable to land the ScanEagle safely. The drone’s body, wings and camera were damaged, according to the officials.
The high-performance ScanEagle has a wingspan of 3 meters and can be piloted by remote control for more than 24 hours. The U.S. military previously deployed the ScanEagle in Iraq and in the waters off Somalia, taking advantage of the drone’s capability to transmit images via radar at an altitude of up to 5,000 meters.
The crashed ScanEagle was one of four unmanned aircraft the GSDF purchased for a total of 1.2 billion yen ($9.9 million), using the supplementary budget for fiscal 2011. The accident occurred during the drone’s final stage of test operations in preparation for deployment.
After the crash, the GSDF suspended operations of the drones and is currently investigating the cause of the engine failure, the Defense Ministry said.
Although the SDF has been involved in the development of unmanned aircraft since the 1950s, SDF-developed drones have not been deployed due to their low reliability.
Elsewhere, an SDF unmanned plane went out of control in May 2014 during a drill conducted in a training area in Kumamoto Prefecture after part of its wings fell off. The drone flew out of the exercise site and crashed in a forest 50 meters from the training range.
The domestically developed aircraft measured 1 meter long and weighed 5.8 kg, and had a wingspan of 1.5 meters.