Japan’s Defense Ministry to Use AI to Search for Targets; Says Weapons Systems Still Need Human Judgment

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Defense Ministry head office in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo

The Defense Ministry decided Tuesday on its first basic policy on artificial intelligence, which states it will use AI to reduce the burden on Self-Defense Forces officials and to conserve manpower as the birth rate falls and the population ages.

The policy says AI will be intensively used in seven areas, including to search for and identify targets using radar and satellite images.

It notes that the United States, China and other countries are promoting the military use of AI, and argues there is an urgent need to adjust to new ways of fighting and to use personnel more efficiently.

“We are now at a crossroads as to whether we will fall behind and become an inefficient, obsolete organization,” the policy says.

It also stresses that AI is accompanied by risks such as errors and biases. “There is a need to ensure human involvement, as what AI does is assist human judgment,” it says.

The seven areas where AI will be used intensively also include (1) collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data from social media and other sources; (2) assisting commanders in making decisions; (3) improving logistical support, including by forecasting demand for equipment; (4) controlling drones and other vehicles; (5) enhancing cybersecurity; and (6) increasing the efficiency of administrative work.

As to lethal autonomous weapons systems, in which an AI selects and attacks targets by itself, the policy clearly states the government has “no intention to develop a fully autonomous system that does not involve human [judgment].”

The policy stipulates that the ministry will confirm the legitimacy of AI use by referring to international humanitarian laws as it researches and introduces AI-based equipment.

Securing staff

The ministry on Tuesday also compiled a comprehensive strategy to secure cyber defense staff.

The strategy says the ministry will establish a new cyber-focused exam category and start recruiting in fiscal 2025 officials who are expected to work mainly for the Cyber Defense Group of the Ground SDF.

Additionally, the JGSDF High Technical School, located in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, will double the number of students in its cyber education course from 30 to 60 in fiscal 2025.

“AI and cyber technology could help us overcome such challenges as a declining population,” Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said at a press conference after the cabinet meeting.