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MQ-9B trial in Japan to assess replacement of manned aircraft

The trial operation of an MQ-9B SeaGuardian with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is intended to assess the adaptability of the RPAS for manned-unmanned teaming with naval vessels and manned aircraft. Here, an MQ-9B co-operates with the USS Coronado in 2021 for warfighting enhancements. The MQ-9B is seen carrying one sonobuoy dispenser system pod in a port wing hardpoint. (US Navy/Chief Petty Officer Shannon Renfroe)

A new trial programme to be conducted in Japan will assess the country's ability to replace some intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) maritime aircraft with remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).

The trial will be conducted by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI) with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). Janes understands that the project will test the ability of MQ-9B SeaGuardian medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support the JMSDF's future operations and warfighting requirements.

A Japan Ministry of Defense (MoD) spokesperson told Janes that, “the objective of this project is to conduct a ‘trial operation' to see if we can replace some of the manned warning and patrol missions, which are currently carried out by our [Japan]Maritime Self-Defense Force aircraft, with unmanned aircraft”.

The project will also test the “feasibility” of replacing manned operations, the spokesperson added.

According to the MoD, the programme, which is called the RPAS Trial Operation Project, will be conducted between fiscal years 2023 and 2024. GA-ASI said in a statement that the project will start in April 2023.

The JMSDF operates 86 manned aircraft in the ISR role, according to Janes data. This includes 33 Kawasaki P-1s, 44 Lockheed Martin (Kawasaki) P-3C Orions, five EP-3s, and four OP-3Cs. Janes

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