Shin-Meiwa US1A-Kai Flying Boat

Shin-Meiwa US1A-Kai Flying Boat

The biggest piece of news concerning the Self-Defense Forces this week is Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa’s announcement that Japan will sell used propellors from the MSDF’s US-1A flying boats. The propellors will be used to supply the Afghan military with some refurbished transport planes.

The US approached Japan secretly in August 2010 to ask for assistance in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, perhaps to prevent Japanese embarrassment should the Japanese have been unable to fulfill the request. The propellors will be fitted to C-27A short take off and landing (STOL) transport planes that the US will provide to Afghanistan.

The US has already provided 10 C-27As to the Afghan Air Force. Their STOL capabilities make them ideal in Afghanistan’s rugged mountain terrain where a full-length airfield is hard to find. The plane will be reportedly be used for transport, medical evacuation and training.

The US was unable to source any propellors from C-27As, which have been flying since the 1970. However, the MSDF has 20 used US-1A propellors in storage at Iwakuni Air Station and its supply depot in Chiba – quite possibly leftovers from the upgrade of the fleet (although that would make them rather old).  These propellors are similar enough to be used on the C-27A – perhaps due to their similar STOL capabilities, and would be enough for the US to fit 5 or 10 of the 20 C-27As on their way to Afghanistan – depending on who you ask. Japan is reportedly selling the propellors at 1.4 million yen a piece.

The Defense Ministry was clearly able to persuade the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that the sale could be beneficial to the US-Japan relationship, which had been frayed following Hatoyama’s premiership. After consultations between the ministries, they agreed that the propellors were multi-purpose technology, citing the availability of similar civilian models such as the YS-11, and are thus not subject to Japan’s rules on arms exports which forbid export to:

(1) communist bloc countries,
(2) countries subject to “arms” exports embargo under the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions, and
(3) countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts.

Given the continuing conflict in Afghanistan, this agreement might be called a cop-out. It raises the question of whether the Defense Ministry will use this as precedent to press forth further sales in the future, or whether this might be used to justify the end of the three principles which have guided Japan’s arms exports since 1967 or, more likely, the general ban in place since 1976. Seeing the sun set on the ban would give Japan’s defense industry some much needed space for expansion and development – a good thing for Japanese defense and a great thing for the industry.

The transfer of the propellors could take place as early as next month, according to some reports.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch