The government would allow the export of Japanese-made parts for the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter as an exception to Japan’s long-standing ban on weapons exports, sources said Monday.
Japan intends to acquire F-35s, but domestic defense contractors have yet to commit to join on its production.
Presuming such contractor participation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is expected to endorse parts exports to third countries in a statement soon to be issued, despite concerns that the use of Japanese parts for them might conflict with the nation’s policy of avoiding any possible aggravation of international conflicts.
Such concerns have been fueled as Israel is on the list of countries expected to acquire F-35. Tensions between the Middle Eastern country and its neighbors are perpetually high.
Suga is expected to say in the statement that Japan’s participation in the international development of the F-35 would contribute to enhancing the country’s national security.
He will also state that the export of fighter jets made with Japanese parts to a third country would not run counter to the national arms export ban, on the grounds that Japan and the United States will strictly control shipments, the sources said.
Suga told reporters Monday: “We are now in a stage of discussing within the government how to deal with the matter in relation to Japan’s three principles on arms exports.”
Under the principles first introduced in 1967 by then-Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, Japan prohibited weapons exports to communist states, countries subject to arms embargoes under U.N. resolutions, and nations involved in international conflicts. The rules were tightened into a virtual blanket ban in 1976.
Exceptions have since been made, starting with the supply of weapons technology to the United States, Japan’s closest ally, in 1983, and joint production of missile shield systems with the United States in 2004.
The principles were eased further in December 2011, under the former Democratic Party of Japan administration, to make it possible for Japan to participate in joint weapons development and production with other countries for the purpose of contributing to international peace.
The provision to other nations of noncombat equipment used by the Self-Defense Forces, such as heavy construction machinery and protective vests, was also made possible for humanitarian purposes under the relaxed ban.
Japan signed a deal with the United States last year to purchase an initial four radar-evading F-35s by fiscal 2016. The move is part of plans to eventually procure 42 F-35s as the next-generation mainstay jet for the Air Self-Defense Force.
The fighter jet is being developed by an international consortium led by U.S. aircraft giant Lockheed Martin Corp.
Japanese firms have not joined the consortium, but from the viewpoint of nurturing the defense industry, the government has been discussing with Washington plans to participate in the manufacture of parts.