This is mildly surprising. A vice minister of defense says the government wants to make it easier for defense contractors to join in international development of advanced weapons systems.

Presumably this means the F-X fighter. Japan’s indigenous F-2 fighter bomber is coming to the end of its production run and the worry is that without new work, Japan’s fighter industry, as small as that is, will start to atrophy. The F-X program will obviously be based on a foreign fighter, but the hope is that it can be Japan-ized by local industry, to give the fighter industry something to do.

Here’s one thing I don’t understand: how does Japan’s defense contractors working with foreign countries and defense contractors from foreign countries violate the arms ban? And if the F-X is really just a Japan-ized F-35/F-18/Typhoon, then wasn’t the F-2 just a Japan-ized F-16? Didn’t Japanese defense contractors work with Lockheed Martin and the U.S. government on that program?

Here’s the “Three Principles” that make up the de facto Japanese arms export ban:

1. No selling to communists.
2. No selling to countries slapped with an arms embargo by the U.N. Security Council.
3. No selling to countries at war or likely to enter a state of war.

It’s surprisingly mild. The kicker is that, according to the site linked above, Japan then extended the arms ban to, well, pretty much everyone.

According to the article Hatoyama announced his support for the “Three Principles” last January. So presumably that will stay in place. But a weakening of the overall ban looks to be on the agenda. How much it gets weakened is hard to say–I’m guessing not much, since the SDP will be dead-set against the idea. Just enough to get the F-X program squared away. But it’s a crack in the wall, and the crack will eventually grow. And when the wall comes down, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems will regret it.

I do have one small quibble with the article:

Akihisa Nagashima, parliamentary vice-minister of defence, told the Financial Times that the move reflects concern about the competitiveness of the country’s defence industry and the high prices its military must pay for arms that are often less than cutting edge.

I really can’t think of a Japanese weapon system that is less than cutting edge. I mean, Japan may not have the F-22, but if a weapons system is so advanced that only one country has it, it really is an exception to the rule. Japanese weapons systems are generally world class.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch