Will drones replace helicopter pilots in the Self-Defense Forces? by Kisho Yoshida (Geoeconomic Briefing)

In Japan’s National Defense Strategy released in December 2022, the government listed unmanned defense capabilities as one of the key factors for fundamental reinforcement of defense. The document stated that unmanned assets are often relatively affordable compared to manned equipment, with the great advantage of being able to minimize human loss while operating continuously for a long period of time. It stated that in approximately 10 years, which corresponds to the fiscal 2032, Japan will accelerate the development and introduction of unmanned assets in air, water and underwater domains in accordance with its geographical characteristics, and expand their full-scale operation. It also asserts that the Self-Defense Forces will reinforce the ability to simultaneously control multiple unmanned assets using advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence. In response to the strategy, Japan made a major shift in its Defense Buildup Program to transfer the functions of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s AH-1S anti-tank helicopters, AH-64D combat helicopters and OH-1 observation helicopters to multipurpose/attack unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and surveillance UAVs. This replacement will be carried out in stages, with the minimum required functions maintained by arming existing helicopters, among other measures.

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