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Japan Plans Armed Wingman Drone Development With US: Report

Japan is planning to co-develop an armed drone with the US to fly alongside manned aircraft, Nikkei revealed.

The wingman drone will fly ahead of the manned aircraft, receiving instructions from the pilot or a remote command center and receive terrain and weather assessments from its artificial intelligence. It will be outfitted with early missile and aircraft detection technology and anti-missile weapons.

The autonomous aircraft is likely to fly with the aircraft Japan plans to replace its F-2 fighter by 2035, when China expects to complete its military modernization, the outlet added.

Japan’s Focus on Unmanned Platforms

The US military believes China may try to invade Taiwan by 2027. However, Japanese unmanned platforms might not be ready to counter such further expansionism in the region. Japan currently relies on the US-made Global Hawk unarmed drone for its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. 

To increase deterrence, Japan is carrying out joint drills with the MQ9 drones, which the US may deploy temporarily on the island nation this summer, the outlet said. The General Atomics platform can be armed with weapons such as AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.

Japanese defense planners’ focus on unmanned platforms aims to compensate for China’s numerical superiority, the outlet observed. The unmanned platforms are also cheaper than manned platforms and can reach places a manned aircraft can not.

Project to Increase Interoperability

Joint development of the wingman drone with the US will also increase operability between the two militaries.

The Japanese government wants local firms to lead the development effort, helping sustain the domestic arms industry and allowing for easier modification work on the aircraft in the future.  

The outlet wrote that approximately 100 drones could be built under the project, matching the number of next-generation aircraft projected for development.

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