A demonstration of the capabilities of the Guardian drone, which is derived from a type used in the Iraq War by the U.S. military, at Iki Airport on the island of Iki, Nagasaki Prefecture, on May 12. The testing is the first of its kind in Japan. (Taketsugu Sato and Takateru Doi)

IKI, Nagasaki Prefecture--A U.S. defense contractor is pitching a large drone, a variant of the Predator used in the Iraq War, in the first demonstration of its kind in Japan from the airport here.

However, the Guardian drone is not equipped with military equipment and is being tested strictly for civilian purposes.

The three-week demonstration, which began May 10, is being conducted by General Atomics Corp. in cooperation with the Iki city government, land ministry, Defense Ministry and other parties.

The Guardian is derived from the Predator, which was used by the U.S. military for reconnaissance, surveillance and missile attacks during the Iraq War.

In the demonstration, the Guardian is expected to be flown a dozen or so times from Iki Airport on the island of Iki, located off the main island of Kyushu, to the surrounding sea.

The Guardian is about 11 meters long and its wings are about 20 meters long combined. It is remotely operated by a ground control station via satellite.

Officials plan to determine the degree of precision of the Automatic Ship Identification System and the radar system installed on the drone.

They will also test the drone to assist in surveys on the weather, natural disasters and the ocean, as well as in searches for missing persons on Iki island.

The Guardian can be used for combat situations. A missile can be installed by rearranging parts.

General Atomics expects the drone to be used for military applications in the future, such as surveillance of waters around Japan and identification of vessels that trespass into Japanese territorial waters.

Terry Kraft, vice president of the company, stressed the Guardian being tested in Japan is designed for commercial applications.

But he added that it will be up to the Japanese government and the Defense Ministry to utilize the drone for military purposes.

Hurdles must be overcome before introducing the Guardian in Japan even for nonmilitary uses.

Law revisions will be needed as the Guardian, which flies at a low altitude and uses a commercial airport, is not currently legally permitted to fly in the nation.

The ongoing experiment was given the green light on the condition that the drone will be accompanied by a manned light plane on its flights.

(This article was written by Taketsugu Sato, senior staff writer, and Takateru Doi.)