Japan and the United States have recently agreed to begin joint research on artificial intelligence in the hope of using the technology for drones that would work in tandem with the Asian nation's next fighter jet.
Japan plans to co-develop a next-generation fighter aircraft with Britain and Italy by 2035. While the United States, Japan's key security ally, is not part of the fighter jet project, it has sought to bolster defense cooperation with Tokyo, including in autonomous systems capabilities.
The objective of the joint AI study is to "revolutionize airborne combat by merging state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and machine learning with advanced unmanned air vehicles," the U.S. Air Force said in a press release issued last month upon the signing of the agreement.
"The AI developed in this joint research is expected to be applied to UAVs operated alongside Japan's next fighter aircraft," it said, emphasizing that the collaboration will be beneficial for maintaining "technological advantages" of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
The drones can be used to collect data by flying near fighter jets.
The three-way fighter jet development deal was reached in December 2022, with the United States announcing its support of Japan's defense cooperation with the two NATO members as the Asian nation faces a severe security environment, particularly in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
Tokyo had initially sought to collaborate with U.S. defense firms in developing new fighters but decided to look for other partners due to strict U.S. rules on information confidentiality.
Japan wants to develop a successor to its F-2 planes, while Britain and Italy aim to replace their Eurofighter jets.
The fighter jet program marks Japan's first joint defense equipment development deal with a country other than the United States.