Japan Maritime Self Defense Force eyeing purchase of 20 unmanned helicopters

US Navy file photo of an MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter on the flight deck of littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4)

The Japanese government intends to acquire around 20 unmanned helicopters for its Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF), local media reports have said citing unnamed officials.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, the acquisition of a yet unspecified large, unmanned helicopter fleet would be in response to China’s growing maritime assertiveness in the region.

The ship-based helicopters would augment Japan’s early warning and surveillance activities around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture that are currently being carried out by manned helicopters and P-3C aircraft.

A definitive helicopter model could be selected around 2022, with actual procurement starting a year later, the report said.

The Northrop Grumman-built MQ-8C Fire Scout is currently said to be in the lead as the unmanned helicopter choice. It reached initial operational capability with the US Navy this year and is expected to deploy aboard a littoral combat ship in fiscal 2021.

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