According to reports from the Japan Times, a Japanese government source revealed that it plans to develop a large underwater drone that automatically navigates in the ocean to collect information, in view of China’s military expansion and assertiveness in regional waters.
The necessity has been increasing for Japan to strengthen defenses around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea as Beijing, which calls the uninhabited islets the Diaoyus, has been aggressively pressing its ownership claims.
The Japanese Defense Ministry has decided to mention, in its policy document the plan aimed at beefing up capabilities to guard remote islands, outlining Japan’s defense capabilities for the next five years from April 2019.
The Mid-Term Defence Program will clearly state Japan’s needs and intent to develop “unmanned diving machine” technology that is “adaptable to various missions including surveillance,” the government source informed. With this policy direction, the ministry will start working toward the development of an underwater drone that is over 10 meters long. Sources also claim that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet is likely to approve the defense policy document in mid-December.
The midterm program more specifically explains defense spending and procurement plans, while the guidelines, which were last approved in 2013, set out Japan’s desired defense posture over a span of approximately a decade.
Reports from several government sources also state that final arrangements are currently being made for the new midterm policy and revisions to the country’s National Defence Program Guidelines to be approved together by the Cabinet on Dec. 18.
A chronic shortage of Self-Defense Forces personnel has led the ministry to develop an underwater drone as a necessity. And with technological advances, such a drone could be turned into a powerful weapon equipped with torpedoes, which may cause public concern. The new guidelines are also expected to state that Japan needs to promote “unmanned equipment.”
As a part of the development program the ministry will conduct demonstration experiments to detect sound waves in a huge water tank at a facility in Iwakuni, in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The test facility will begin operations in fiscal 2021 at the earliest; the timing for the start of developing the drone is not yet known.