Japan wants to replace its attack and reconnaissance helicopters with drones

The Japanese self-defense forces want to replace their Apache and Cobra attack helicopters and OH-1 reconnaissance helicopters with drones in the coming years.

A year after the start of the conflict, the lessons of the war in Ukraine, the first very high-intensity war employing the entire modern conventional panoply for many decades, are beginning to influence the military planning of the major world powers.

This is how the heavy tank, considered until recently by many as a legacy of the past now too vulnerable to new missiles and prowling ammunition, is now at the heart of the capability concerns of many armies in Europe and beyond. .

Even in France, this influence is noticeably felt on the next Military Programming Law, which must in particular restore to the air forces the capabilities of Suppression of the Air Defenses of the Enemy, or SEAD for the English acronym, even though this hypothesis had been roundly rejected by the Ministry of the Armed Forces just a year ago, in response to a request from a member of the Defense Committee, and which plans to equip the armies with a large number of prowling ammunition, two capabilities which have proved essential in Ukraine.

While many types of equipment have demonstrated their effectiveness during this conflict, others, on the other hand, have shown their great vulnerability, to the point that they no longer play a significant role during engagements.

This is especially the case with helicopter gunships, which paid a very heavy price in the face of MANPADS short-range infantry anti-aircraft systems during the first months of the war.

Thus, according to the documented count made by the site oryxspioenkop.com, Russian forces have reportedly lost almost a quarter of their fleet of Ka-52 Alligator and Mi-28 tank destroyers since the start of the conflict, all between February and July.

Since then, these aircraft seem much less present near the line of engagement, where, for example, the last documented losses of Su-34 tactical bombers, also widely tested with 18 identified aircraft destroyed out of 146, date from the beginning of the month of February 2023.

Armed drones are a possible response to the observed vulnerability of attack and reconnaissance helicopters in Ukraine.
31 Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters were identified as shot down or destroyed on the ground in Ukraine

This vulnerability of helicopters near the line of engagement, or over adversary-controlled territory, appears to be taken seriously by many armies around the world.

While utility and transport helicopters remain essential for carrying out tactical movements, medical evacuations and for ensuring the flow of logistics, as was the case for example during the siege of Mariopol, combat helicopters, as well as aircraft intended for tactical reconnaissance, could be threatened in the years to come, to the benefit of combat drones, light drones and other wandering munitions.

It is in any case the direction in which the Japanese self-defense forces seem to be heading, according to the new National Defense Strategy published at the end of last year.


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