Amid an increasingly challenging geopolitical environment in North Asia, the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF) is upgrading its rotorcraft capabilities to better deal with littoral missions.
The JGSDF says that Japan’s region is becoming increasingly “severe and uncertain at a much greater speed than before”, and that measures are necessary to protect Japanese interests.
In early May, the JGSDF’s first pair of Bell Boeing V-22 Ospreys arrived in Japan. The tiltrotor type will support Tokyo’s new Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade.
The JGSDF will not say when the Osprey will become operational, but since 2016 its personnel have trained on the V-22 with the US Marine Corps at MCAS New River, North Carolina.
“Through field training exercises with the US Marine Corps in Japan and overseas, we are working to familiarise ourselves with aerial manoeuvres using the Osprey,” it says.
The service will also use the Osprey for disaster relief and emergency evacuations from remote islands. Tokyo is the only foreign buyer of the V-22, with plans to operate 17 examples.
NEW ATTACK HELICOPTER
Japan is also seeking to bolster its attack helicopter fleet. Under the AH-X programme, 55 Bell AH-1S Cobras and 13 Boeing AH-64D Apaches will be replaced with a new type. Both models were produced locally by Subaru – previously known as Fuji Heavy Industries.
The acquisition, which the JGSDF refers to as New Attack Helicopter (NAH), is looking at a number of helicopters. Key attributes include air-to-ground firepower, connectivity with new systems such as unmanned air vehicles, and sustainment in a challenging littoral environment.
The JGSDF declines to provide much detail about the AH-X procurement, such as when a decision can be expected. Industry sources have previously said that a request for information was issued in 2018, and that the requirement calls for 30-40 attack helicopters that must be capable of operating from ships.
The deal has received interest from incumbents Bell and Boeing, plus Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters, and local firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Separately, the JGSDF will eventually receive the Bell Subaru UH-X to replace its Bell UH-1 utility helicopters. In 2015, the Bell 412-based design won a competition for about 150 examples.
“Compared to the UH-1, the UH-X’s dual engines, electronic integrated instruments, and longer-range improve safety at extremely low altitudes and over the sea, as well as the cruising and navigation performance required for round-trip flights between islands,” says the JGSDF.
OH-1, UH-1 IN SCOUT MISSION
Among the more exotic types in the JGSDF fleet is the Kawasaki OH-1 scout helicopter, of which 37 examples are in operation. The OH-1 is used for reconnaissance as well as command and control missions. There are no plans to acquire more or, for the time being, to upgrade the existing fleet.
The type partially replaced the Kawasaki-produced OH-6, which ceased operations earlier in 2020. For the time being, former OH-6 duties will be undertaken by the OH-1 and the UH-1.
Similarly, Japan has no immediate plan to upgrade or replace its fleet of Kawasaki-built Boeing CH-47 Chinooks or Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks.
“In the event of various contingencies, the JGSDF considers that the rapid initial response by aircraft contributes a ‘rapid deployment ground defence force’ that can serve as a deterrent not only in emergencies but also in normal times,” says the service.
“Based on this, we will continue to steadily improve JGSDF aviation, which can contribute to the defence of Japan by fully leveraging the capabilities of the V-22 and other new aircraft.”