Ministry seeks radical revamp of defense equipment production policy

Kyodo

The Defense Ministry aims to adopt by March a new defense equipment production strategy, revamping a policy followed since 1970 of limiting manufacture to domestic companies, a government official said Saturday.

The new strategy will open the way for Japan to play a greater role in jointly developing and producing weapons with other nations and to globally market more noncombat equipment for commercial use, the official said.

The first change in strategy in 43 years is linked to a review by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan’s self-imposed arms export embargo.

The nation’s “three principles” on arms exports were introduced in 1967, with the rules tightened into a virtual blanket ban in 1976. Under the three principles, Japan prohibits weapons sales to Communist states, countries subject to embargoes under U.N. resolutions, and nations engaged in international conflicts.

But in 2011, the government made drastic changes to make it possible to participate in joint weapons development and production with other countries.

Reviewing the existing policies on defense equipment production and the arms embargo reflects the Abe administration’s desire to bolster security cooperation with other countries in light of China’s maritime assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear threat, political experts said.

Under the new policy, the government will classify defense equipment, identifying items to be developed jointly with other countries as distinct from equipment that will continue to be produced domestically, the official said.

Among the items considered better suited for joint international development are aircraft, chemical protective suits and missile defense-related weapons, while radar equipment and ammunition are among the items that would continue to be made domestically for security and other reasons, the official said.

The government plans to market abroad certain equipment, such as the US-2 search and rescue amphibious aircraft used by the Maritime Self-Defense Force, trucks operated by the Ground Self-Defense Force, and noncombat items such as decontamination equipment, the official said.

In 1970, the basic policy regarding production and development of defense equipment was adopted by Yasuhiro Nakasone, then chief of the Defense Agency, which was later upgraded to the Defense Ministry. The policy was drawn up to rebuild the nation’s defense industry after World War II.

Under the policy, about 90 percent of defense equipment was made either domestically with Japanese technology or under license, mainly from the United States. But this setup is no longer feasible because more and more countries and companies have joined forces to create defense equipment, the source said.

A case in point is the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jet, which is being developed by an American-led international consortium. The Air Self-Defense Force is set to introduce F-35s as its next-generation mainstay fighter.