Japanese Military Drones, Robotics Develop in Response to U.S.-China Pivot

In the News
February 21, 2017

In the wake of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit with new President Donald Trump, many observers have been speculating about how Japan’s trade and military relationships with the U.S. will change and how they will affect the rest of Asia.

Robotics and Japanese military drones are likely beneficiaries.

Last July, Japan opened the floodgates for a new era of defense spending. Japanese voters gave Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a majority, which will allow him to “revise” the constitution — a constitution that has outlawed war since 1947.

The economic and military rise of China, territorial tensions around the South China Sea, and shifting U.S. priorities are all responsible for Japan’s push towards re-militarization. This doesn’t bode well for global peace, but it does bode well for robotics — especially Japanese military drones, which Tokyo has placed at the forefront of its strategy.

In mid-2014, in the face of a growing Chinese threat, the Japanese military announced that it would spend $372 million to develop and expand its “non-existent” unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sector, a 300 percent increase. This includes purchasing foreign drones and developing indigenous ones.

Months later, the U.S. approved a $1.2 billion sale of three Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drones to Japan. This enhanced Japan’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Business Takeaways:

  • Japan has been working with the U.S. and Israel on developing Japanese military drones for surveillance and even autonomous attacks.
  • At the same time, Tokyo is working to make sure that it retains the homegrown ability to develop robotics and UAV technology.
  • Japan could become a net exporter of military drones, exoskeletons, and robotic systems.

Aiming high with Japanese military drones

Since then, the Japanese military drone strategy has grown more ambitious — and indigenous.

Last August, Tokyo unveiled a record military budget of $51 billion for 2017. In addition, it said that it wants “drone fighter jets” within the next two decades, partly because...

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