Govt mulls decommissioning SDF rescue planes, combat helicopters

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An Air Self-Defense Force U-125A plane is seen in Kochi in June 2015.

The government is considering decommissioning some of the Self-Defense Forces’ search and rescue planes and combat helicopters as part of efforts to streamline defense spending, according to government sources.

A “scrap-and-build” approach has been mooted for defense equipment, with drones among possible replacements for the aircraft.

The government is expected to earmark ¥43 trillion over five years on defense spending from fiscal 2023.

The decommissioning plan is expected to be included in reviews of three security-related documents, which are set to be unveiled this month.

One of the plane models eyed for decommissioning is the Air Self-Defense Force’s U-125A, which is currently used by search and rescue units nationwide.

If a fighter jet pilot ejects in an emergency and lands in the sea, search operations to locate the pilot are mainly conducted from the air with radar and infrared night vision equipment.

However, rescue operations can be performed by helicopters alone, as pilots wear beacons that transmit location information.

As Maritime Self-Defense Force rescue helicopters would be utilized for such operations, a decision has been made to retire the U-125A fleet.

MSDF rescue helicopters are likely to be transferred to the ASDF.

The Defense Ministry also plans to downsize the Ground Self-Defense Force fleet, with 12 AH-64D combat helicopters, 47 AH-1S anti-tank attack helicopters and 33 OH-1 observation helicopters eyed for retirement.

An SDF drone unit is expected to be established in the near future and attack drones will be deployed.

The Ukrainian military has used drones and anti-aircraft missiles to repel attacks since the outbreak of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The MSDF is considering downscaling its fleet of 33 P-1 patrol aircraft and 75 SH-60K patrol helicopters.

It plans to deploy U.S.-made SeaGuardian unmanned aerial vehicles at its Hachinohe air base in Aomori Prefecture on a trial basis from fiscal 2023. There are also plans to streamline surveillance operations by increasing the number of SeaGuardian planes in the future.