Japan eyes F-35 maintenance hub under new arms export rules

Kyodo

The Defense Ministry proposed Thursday that Japan host a maintenance hub in the Asia-Pacific region for the F-35 stealth fighter under development by an international consortium, as it outlined a draft strategy to bolster the domestic defense industry under new arms export rules.

The ministry presented the outline to the Liberal Democratic Party just days after the Abe administration adopted new principles and guidelines to relax Japan’s arms export ban, the first major overhaul in nearly half a century.

Although details still need to be worked with the United States, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.’s Komaki Minami Plant in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, is seen as a candidate site for the maintenance hub, as the company will assemble the fighter jets.

The Air Self-Defense Force is planning to use the F-35, along with the United States, Australia, and South Korea. Taiwan and Singapore are also potential buyers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to rework the country’s security policy “to contribute to global peace and security.” The new principles on the transfer of defense equipment are expected to bolster security ties even as concern persists that the country’s pacifist stance could be at risk.

The outline of the Defense Ministry’s strategy says Japan will “boost the competitiveness of the domestic industry by taking part in joint development and production,” citing as possible partners Britain, France, India and Southeast Asian countries.

The strategy cites drones for conducting surveillance as an example of joint development. Japan will also provide parts such as semiconductors and sensors for use in defense equipment, as the strategy states Tokyo aims to “make further contributions in the field of logistical support.”

The government hopes to revitalize the flagging defense industry amid domestic budgetary constraints and open the way for exports overseas of defense equipment rather than lethal weapons.

So far, the defense industry has manufactured and sold equipment almost exclusively to the Self-Defense Forces, with the result that some small- and medium-sized companies have already pulled out.

The strategy states that the Defense Ministry needs to cooperate with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in extending support to small and medium-size companies to maintain the production base at home.