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Japanese Defense Ministry Monitors First Chinese WZ-10 Jet Drone Near Okinawa.

On May 27, 2024, the Japanese Ministry of Defense announced that it monitored a WZ-10 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from China flying near Okinawa. This marks the first instance of a WZ-10 military drone from the Wing Loong-10 family being observed in this region.
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Chinese WZ-10 Drone Spotted at Dubai Air Show in 2017. (Picture source: Wikimedia)

According to the Ministry, the WZ-10 drone was detected over the East China Sea, north of Japan’s far southwestern prefecture of Okinawa. The UAV was reportedly flying eastwards from China, adopting a northeasterly course before retracing its path to its origin.

Japan’s Joint Staff Office, responsible for overseeing the nation's maritime, ground, and air self-defense forces, shared in a statement on X (formerly Twitter) that fighter jets were dispatched from the Southwestern Air Command Support Flight. This air force unit is based at the Naha Air Base in Okinawa. The statement highlighted that this was the first occurrence of the WZ-10 drone being spotted in response to an airspace violation by the Japanese Navy. However, it did not specify which aircraft were deployed to monitor the drone.

The airspace where the drone was sighted is beyond Japan’s territorial limits but falls within its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). This zone is crucial for Tokyo, which aims to identify, locate, and control aircraft to ensure national security.

Monitoring the WZ-10 UAV underscores the ongoing vigilance and readiness of Japan’s defense forces in responding to potential airspace incursions. This incident reflects the broader context of regional security dynamics and the importance of maintaining robust surveillance capabilities.

As tensions in the East China Sea continue to be a focal point of regional security concerns, Japan’s proactive measures in tracking and responding to unauthorized aerial activities play a pivotal role. These measures, coupled with the country's robust defense strategy, are instrumental in safeguarding its airspace and national security interests.

Recent tensions between Japan and China have escalated due to territorial disputes and increasing military activities in the East China Sea. Central to these tensions is the ongoing disagreement over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which both nations claim. This dispute has led to frequent confrontations between Chinese and Japanese vessels and aircraft in the region, heightening the risk of accidental clashes. Additionally, China's growing assertiveness and increased military presence in the area, including the recent flight of the WZ-10 UAV near Okinawa, have raised alarms in Japan, prompting enhanced defense measures and strategic vigilance.

Furthermore, broader geopolitical dynamics contribute to the strained relations, including the U.S.-Japan security alliance and China's expansive military modernization. Japan's efforts to bolster its defense capabilities and secure its maritime boundaries are viewed by China as provocative. At the same time, Japan perceives China's actions as aggressive encroachments on its sovereignty and regional stability. This complex interplay of national interests and regional security concerns fuels the tensions between these two major East Asian powers.

The Wing Loong-10, also known as the Winged Dragon and designated as WZ-10 in military contexts, is a series of High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with some stealth capabilities. Developed in the early 2010s, the WZ-10 entered into service with the Chinese military around 2017.

The WZ-10 has six hardpoints, three on each wing, to carry various weapons. Its takeoff weight is 3,200 kg, and its payload capacity is 400 kg. The drone can be armed with a 50 kg CS/BBM3 (YL-12) GPS-guided bomb, Blue Arrow air-to-surface missiles, 100 kg GB-4 precision-guided bombs, and light cruise missiles.

The WZ-10 is powered by a single WP-11C turbojet engine, a single 1-ton class ZF850 engine, or two AFE-50E turbofan engines. It features two WS-500 turbofan engines with concealed nozzles to enhance its stealth characteristics. Additionally, a deceleration parachute is mounted between the engine nozzles.

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