Japanese defence exports taking off


Japan has eased its arms export restrictions in place since 1967. On April 1st, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed that now Japan can export arms to any country except those that do not comply with UN resolutions and countries that are in conflict zones.

The aim of this change is to boost the development of the Japanese defence industry. We are now beginning to see the strategy implemented by Tokyo in order to foster its arms exports. First has been participated for the very first time at Eurosatory. 13 Japanese manufacturers presented their newest equipment mainly in the field of security systems and technology, such as, parachutes, facial-authentication devices, bridge-building equipment and mine detectors, for instance.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries presented its new 8×8 land vehicle. This was the first time that Japan showed so openly its desire to export defence-related equipment. Other major companies were represented at Eurosatory such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd, Nec Corp or Hitachi Ltd.

Second, Japan’s defence industrial strategy also includes the creation within a year of a procurement agency that will promote Japanese defence industry exports and imports. It will oversee the Technical Research & Development Institute, Japan’s main weapons research and development unit, according to Reuters.

Based on the model of the French General Directorate for Armament (DGA), it will hire 2,000 personnel for supporting exports and evaluating equipment for use in Japan’s military. The agency will have to lower the cost of Japanese products and support exports thanks to economies of scale and technology transfers to Japan. Notably, among projects the agency will manage, are the participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme or the US SM-3 IIA anti-ballistic missile. Reuters says that the goal is to increase the participation of Japan in multiple joint international programmes in order to be able to design and produce domestically its own programs in the future.

Another example of Japan’s will to foster defence-related exports is evident in the future transport helicopter programme it is currently preparing. The $2 billion tender is to conceive and manufacture a new helicopter to replace the 150 UH-1 Hueys used by the Japanese Self Defence Force, and make this platform suited to and competitive in export markets. The talks began in earnest over the past two months and they “represent another milestone in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to nurture a domestic weapons export industry,” according to Japan Times.

Japan’s plan is to develop this new helicopter in collaboration with one of the top global helicopter makers and a Japanese partner. Today, Airbus Helicopter has shown interest in participating in this contract, with Kawasaki presenting a new design for the UH-X. US manufacturer Bell plans to answer the bid with Fuji Heavy Industries and its Bell 142. For its part, Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland will present its AW169 in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries.

However, the Japanese ease in arms exports still face some limits. The country is still reluctant to sell assets including top secret technology such as the Soryu-class submarines despite Australian interest in buying several units. Another limit is the price of Japanese products. For instance, the ShinMaywa US-2 amphibian will not be sold to India because of its price-tag of up to $98 million.

Last but not least, despite the opening of arms export, the limits imposed by the new rules still prevent Japanese companies from selling their goods or services under certain conditions. For instance, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had received a request from a US defence company to supply parts for the PAC-2 surface-to-air missile system. The company was unable to accept it as the missiles could be sold to countries banned by Japan from exporting weapons, according to the Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.

Republished with permission from ADIT – The Bulletin.