Find Ways to Reduce Burden on SDF as Scrambles Increase

With militaries around the world increasing their focus on the operation of drones, Japan’s security is coming under threat as well. Enhancing the response capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces is an urgent task.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both countries’ militaries are using attack drones. Earlier this month, drones exploded over the Kremlin in Moscow, shocking the world.

In recent years, China has begun flying reconnaissance drones around Japan and over the East China Sea.

Compared to fighter jets capable of carrying powerful missiles, drones are inferior in performance. Nevertheless, countries have actively introduced drones because they can be operated at a significantly lower cost.

For militaries, drones are also easier to use as there is no need to worry about the lives of their pilots.

Last fiscal year, Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets were scrambled 778 times when alerted to airspace violations by foreign military aircraft. Of these, eight scrambles were in response to Chinese drones, doubling the figure from the previous fiscal year.

If these fighter jets continue to repeatedly scramble against drones, the ASDF will be drained in terms of costs and its operations.

In February this year, the government revised its criteria for the SDF’s use of weapons in the wake of Chinese reconnaissance balloons flying over Japan.

Previously, the shooting down of aircraft violating Japan’s airspace had been limited to cases related to the right of self-defense or an act of necessity. However, the revision has allowed a drone to be shot down in order to ensure safety in the air and on the ground, even if the act does not fall under such categories as the right of self-defense.

The change in the criteria is likely to have a certain effect in deterring provocations involving drones.

This revision alone, however, is unlikely to be sufficient to deal with threats. It is essential that the SDF themselves operate drones to enhance their vigilance and surveillance capabilities.

The use of drones also may help the SDF make effective use of their limited personnel, which have become increasingly difficult to secure due to the low birth rate.

Over the next five years from this fiscal year, the government plans to acquire various drones, such as a type designed to remain airborne for a long time to monitor the ocean and an underwater type capable of detecting mines. The SDF must hasten the training of personnel to operate these drones.

With military technology advancing, there have been growing concerns over drones equipped with artificial intelligence (AI). The need for regulations on lethal autonomous weapon systems, in which weapons wage attacks without human involvement, has been raised, but international rules have yet to be implemented.

It is crucial for Japan to actively participate in discussions to create such rules and strive to reach consensus at an early stage.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2023)