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Japan designing flight controls, AI for fighter-support UAV

Japan is developing an unmanned and autonomous combat aerial vehicle to support its sixth-generation F-X fighters in the future. The combat UAV is expected to team with the F-X in 2035. (Japanese Ministry of Defense)

A combat unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) project being developed in Japan to support future manned fighter aircraft is undergoing advances to its flight control and artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

The country's Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) told Janes that it is designing the tactical flight-control and remote-control system of the unmanned aircraft using a manned aerial platform as a guide.

“Our plan is to test and evaluate those technologies with a subscale model UAV,” ATLA said. The agency added that research on the subscale UAV model began in 2019.

Tentatively known as the ‘combat support autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle', the project has been the focus of renewed funding in the 2022 Japan defence budget. Tokyo allocated JPY9.8 billion (USD77.461 million) to conduct a concept study.

According to ATLA, the concept study “consists of [the] computational simulation of several AI-controlled UAVs and some pilot-in-the-loop simulation for teaming with these UAVs”.

The study could derive concepts for the functions, performance, and operational effectiveness of the planned UAV. The UAV is to co-ordinate with future manned aircraft such as Japan's sixth-generation F-X stealth fighter.

According to ATLA, existing research on the subscale UAV model and AI will enable it to conduct the concept study on AI-controlled UAVs from fiscal year (FY) 2022.

“Based on these results, the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) will make a plan for developing UAV teaming with manned aircraft,” ATLA said.

However, the agency added that the “contract of the concept study on AI-controlled UAVs” has not yet been formalised.

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