The Japanese Defence Ministry is considering acquiring three Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft from the US to enhance its air surveillance capabilities.

Japan’s move is seen as a measure to deal with China’s increasing militarisation and North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The ministry plans to buy the unmanned high-altitude aircraft as part of its new mid-term defence programme for 2011-2015.

The Global Hawk can fly at an altitude of 18,000m and is equipped with sophisticated cameras and highly sensitive communications-receiving abilities.

The aircraft can gather data and simultaneously send it to command facilities on the ground.

The Global Hawk costs 4.15bn yen ($50m) including equipment, so the sum for three aircraft will in excess of 12bn yen ($144m), according to the Japan Times.