The Defense Ministry is actively searching for technologies developed by small and medium-size domestic firms to use in equipment for the Self-Defense Forces, according to ministry documents obtained by Kyodo News.
The ministry has traditionally looked to major manufacturers for domestically produced SDF equipment. But now it is looking for innovation from smaller firms, including creating textiles for protective gear. The move is aimed in part at preventing the leak of expertise to countries like the United States and China, both of which are interested in acquiring Japanese technology for military use.
The Defense Ministry held an exhibition last December in Tokyo of small and medium-size companies’ products with potential military applications, according to the ministry document. Around 10 companies exhibited products like 3-D printers and highly sensitive cameras at the event attended by senior ministry personnel and officials in charge of equipment procurement, it said.
The document described the exhibition as being aimed at “finding companies with no existing relationship to the defense industry but owning sophisticated technologies, and creating opportunities to enable them to enter the defense industry.”
“We believe it is very important to promote cooperation with small and medium-size companies that have advanced technologies to procure sophisticated equipment and activate the defense industry,” a ministry official said when asked about the document.
In fiscal 2015, the Defense Ministry launched a system to financially support research by universities and businesses for developing technologies with potential military applications.
But some private-sector researchers remain wary, with one engineer saying “I’m wondering if we would be able to say ‘no’ if asked for cooperation by the Defense Ministry in the future.”
Yuzo Murayama, a Doshisha University graduate school professor of economic security, said there is strong global competition in the private sector to develop technologies with military applications.
“It is possible that Japanese technologies would leak outside the country and be used for evil purposes if no steps are taken,” Murayama said.
He added that technologies developed by the private sector for military applications should be “limited mainly to the purpose of protecting a country or a society, such as for counterterrorism, not weapons for fighting.”