The Defense Ministry is planning to introduce Israeli- and U.S.-made attack drones to Self-Defense Forces units on a trial basis in fiscal 2023 to strengthen the defense of remote islands, according to government sources. From fiscal 2025 onward, the ministry plans to deploy several hundred attack drones, including drones manufactured in Japan, several sources said. Attack drones have been used by the Ukrainian military for counterstrikes against Russian forces, achieving significant results while limiting human casualties. The Japanese government has concluded that this will help strengthen its deterrence capabilities. The government plans to deploy the drones mainly in the Nansei Islands, which span Kyushu and Okinawa Prefecture.
In the event of an emergency, it envisions using the drones to attack enemy naval vessels approaching the islands and enemy forces attempting to land. The drones are also expected to be used for vigilance and surveillance at garrisons and bases. The Israeli-made Harop drone and the U.S.-made Switchblade are expected to be introduced. The Harop is approximately 2.5 meters in length and can fly for nine hours, while the Switchblade is just about 36 centimeters long and easy to carry but can only fly for 15 minutes. Both of these unmanned aerial vehicles can fly into the enemy and inflict damage. The Switchblade was recently provided to the Ukrainian military by U.S. forces. The Turkish-made TB2 and other tactical unmanned aerial vehicle systems that can attack with onboard missiles are also being considered. The SDF units will test the usefulness of each system, aiming to deploy them on a full-scale basis.
The ministry also hopes to support the development of domestically produced attack drones. The unmanned aerial systems currently owned by the SDF include the large Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft and the small ScanEagle, both manufactured in the United States. But they are only for surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. China has been aggressively pursuing maritime advances and is said to be focusing on the development and deployment of unmanned attack aircraft. It has been pointed out that the SDF has been slow to respond. The Japanese government is working to specify its policy for actively introducing and utilizing various types of unmanned aircraft, including attack drones, in three documents scheduled to be revised at the end of the year, including the National Security Strategy. The Defense Ministry has indicated for the first time its policy to develop an unmanned aerial attack system in its budgetary request for fiscal 2023. The ministry plans to make a “request by item” that does not specify the amount of money at the budgetary request stage, with the number of unmanned aerial vehicles to be introduced and the budget to be finalized by the end of the year.
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