JFSDF considering using unmanned aircraft on ships

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force is considering the deployment of fixed-wing unmanned reconnaissance aircraft with the ability to take off from and land on destroyers.

 Informed sources say the MSDF also plans to conduct research on equipment necessary for such takeoff and landing.    It would be the first ship-based fixed-wing aircraft for the MSDF.  The MSDF has not operated fixed-wing aircraft on destroyers out of concerns that such an operation can be regarded as use of an offensive aircraft carrier that Japan is banned from possessing under the constitution, which allows the country to have only minimum capabilities for self-defense.

Depending on the progress of its research, sources explain, Japan might in the future possess an aircraft carrier outfitted with fighter jets. An official of the Defense Ministry says, however, that studies on such carrier-borne aircraft will not lead to the deployment of fighter jets. The official notes that unmanned aircraft can be utilized in dangerous areas in the event of emergencies.

 With China increasing its presence in the East China Sea, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are accelerating efforts to boost surveillance abilities. The MSDF included some ¥2 million in related research costs in its fiscal 2014 budget request.   Over the next five years, the MSDF is expected to purchase up to 19 such aircraft, possibly the RQ-21 small tactical unmanned aircraft, which the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have deployed.

The RQ-21 can continue flying for up to some 24 hours, with its flight routes remotely controlled.   In line with the constitutional constraints, MSDF destroyers currently have no takeoff and landing equipment for aircraft. They can accept only helicopters and the U.S. Marine Corps’ MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft.