Featured NewsTrending NewsJapan Testing Drones as Interceptors


6 March 2023

The Self-Defense Forces of Japan are considering replacing piloted jets with unmanned drones to intercept foreign warships that violate the country's airspace.

Instances of combat and/or reconnaissance aircraft and military drone flights (typically Chinese) operating near or violating Japan's territorial domain are rising—more than 1,004 scrambles were initiated in 2021 alone—and the SDF wants to lower risks for its personnel.

Japan seeks to test the performance of drones to evaluate if they can be effective "jet chasers"—especially as China and Russia are increasing the actions of their joint air campaign in the region. There is also the concern that a potential invasion of Taiwan by China is in the works, as Chinese drone activity intensifies. In fact, drones flown by the People's Liberation Army have been identified over the East China Sea every day in the past few years.

Japan has upgraded its discussions on drone incursions since an alleged Chinese spy balloon was monitored and ultimately shot down over the U.S.

The initial action for the SDF is to train its drone pilots to spot and assess foreign military assets. If the exercises prove effective, Japan will deploy drones to intercept potentially unfriendly drones and acquire the model and specs of the "invader." While there's no point in a drone "warning away" another drone, there could be other defensive measures if a drone is acknowledged as a threat.

There's also a financial element to dispatching drones for this job, as it is reportedly 40 times less expensive to scramble a drone than a manned jet fighter.

However, the SDF states that if a significant threat from drones or manned aircraft were detected, it would scramble piloted jets. 

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