Mid-sized business jet type is likely to fill VIP/transport and other roles including airborne battlefield surveillance

Japan's Air and Maritime Self-Defence Forces (JASDF and JMSDF) are to kick-off the search for a replacement for their 17 ageing NAMC YS-11s as part of the country's latest mid-term defence plan.

The country meanwhile is tentatively expressing interest in acquiring a business jet-based battlefield surveillance capability, say sources.

The JASDF and JMSDF have held informal talks with potential bidders for the YS-11 replacement, but are thought unlikely to formalise their requirements before the end of the year at the earliest. One industry source suggests contracts could be signed by 2003, although others believe the date will be later.

The two services are reviewing the roles performed by their respective YS-11 fleets to determine whether a common mid-sized business jet platform could serve as a replacement, or if smaller or larger aircraft types will be required as well. It is likely that fewer than 17 aircraft will be procured as the new platforms are expected to be operated more efficiently. In addition some of the YS-11 transport work could eventually be performed using the indigenous C-X aircraft currently under study.

The Japanese-built twin turboprops are used primarily in the VIP and transport roles, and for calibration work, electronic countermeasures and a range of training missions. However, the JMSDF is understood to be looking primarily for new transports, while the JASDF wants transports plus a platform for surveillance and electronic intelligence missions.

The sources say the transport requirement is likely to pitch the Gulfstream IV against the Bomb-ardier Challenger and members of Dassault's Falcon family. The JASDF already operates four cargo-door equipped GIVs (locally designated U-4s) and is also considering upgrading these aircraft. The JASDF also uses Raytheon Hawker 800s for special missions.

The JMSDF is understood to be also looking at large turboprops such as the Bombardier Dash 8 and ATR 72, in addition to business jets.

One option would be for Japan to acquire a battlefield surveillance platform as part of the YS-11 replacement. The country is showing interest in systems such as Raytheon's Ground Surveillance Airborne Radar System, a Bombardier Global Express-based version of which is being acquired by the UK for its Airborne Stand-Off Radar requirement.

The ageing YS-11s are becoming expensive to operate and support costs are likely to rise further as the type is progressively phased out by commercial operators.

Source: Flight International