Japanese Companies Seek Alternatives to Chinese Drones; New US Drone Deployment to Japan

A number of top Japanese companies have announced their decision to stop relying on Chinese drones due to security concerns. Chinese drones may send back sensitive data to their manufacturers which, especially when said drones are used for tasks like inspecting communication infrastructure, may translate into a direct risk. Japanese government organizations like the Coast Guard have already cut down on the use of PRC-made drones and the government has urged private companies to do the same. Now, companies like Kyushu Electric Power and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone are officially trying to turn to domestically produced alternatives.

Yamaha is one of Japan’s UAV leaders and is set to gain on the move away from Chinese drones.

Seeing an opportunity, some Japanese companies like Sony and Yamaha Motors have stepped up efforts to offer new products for the drone market. According to Nikkei Asia, President Satoshi Washiya of the Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory has stated that his company has already been approached by top Japanese infrastructure companies seeking alternatives to Chinese-made drones. However, concerns exist that as of right now, the domestic drone industry cannot fulfill every need of the Japanese private sector. Moreover, the existing alternatives are often significantly more expensive than their Chinese counterparts.

Meanwhile, as security concerns over China grow in the US and Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced on 7 May, that US Navy and Air Force drones are being deployed to Japan. Specifically, these are of the RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-4C Triton models.

According to a Japanese MoD statement:

“U.S. Air Force Global Hawk and U.S. Navy Triton, whose missions are Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) activities, will be temporarily deployed to Japan after mid-May. In the midst of increasingly severe security environment surrounding Japan, it is critical to enhance ISR activities by both countries. […] This deployment is intended to demonstrate US commitment to Japan’s Defense and will be beneficial to security of Japan by strengthening the ability of maritime surveillance around Japan, given the increasingly active maritime activities by surrounding countries.”

The RQ-4B Global Hawk variant has previously been ordered by the Japanese government but no orders have been made for the MQ-4C Triton.