The Defense Ministry is planning to let suppliers of noncombat defense equipment to the Self-Defense Forces sell their wares to municipalities and other civilian entities, a ministry official said.
The step is intended to invigorate the flagging defense industry by expanding its customer base and spurring mass production so companies can increase efficiency and lower costs, the official said Saturday.
The equipment, which will include protective gear and tents, will be cleared for sale to third parties, including foreign countries, as long as the manufacturers pay the Defense Ministry a fee for the expertise needed to produce it, the official said.
Companies hired to make defense equipment are usually limited to selling their products to the SDF. But budget cuts are forcing the ministry to reduce the number of items purchased, pushing up contractors’ production costs.
Small-lot production also harms defense contractors by making it difficult to maintain the technological capabilities needed to develop such equipment.
The ministry said that over 100 companies exited the defense business in the last decade.
The proposed easing of the equipment procurement rule is seen as a step that must be taken before a full review of the national arms trading embargo can be conducted. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to review it soon, a government source has said.
Japan’s so-called three principles of arms exports were introduced by then-Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in 1967 and tightened into a virtual blanket ban in 1976. In 2011, however, Japan drastically changed the principles to make it possible to participate in joint weapons development and production with other countries.
Under the three principles, Japan prohibited weapons sales to communist states, countries embargoed by U.N. resolutions, and nations in international conflicts.
The ministry last month surveyed about 30 defense contractors to determine whether the idea of doing business with nondefense entities is feasible, the official said. The results will be used to make the final decision.
Defense chief hopeful
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Sunday that he hopes the new defense guidelines Japan will adopt by year-end will allow Japan to engage in collective self-defense.
Onodera said on a TV program that his ministry will work out the guidelines, even though the war-renouncing Constitution is interpreted as banning Japan from using collective self-defense.