The Japanese government has announced that the nation will ease some of its self-imposed restrictions governing the export of military technology and weapons. This decision represents the first major revision to the government’s ban since it was implemented in 1967 and strengthened in 1976.
Japan’s ban was formulated during the Cold War-era to prevent Communist Bloc nations from acquiring advanced military technology and was believed by Japanese politicians of the time to be fully in line with the nation’s declaration of pacifism. The Japanese ban also extended to nations subject to a United Nations arms embargo. According to the government’s formal announcement, the ban will remain in effect for those nations engaged in protracted international conflicts and those subject to UN arm’s embargoes.
For many years, Japanese industrial interests, lobbyists, and the United States have tried to convince Japanese leaders to rescind the ban. The United States has long encouraged Japan to share jointly-developed military technology with other US allies.
Japan’s announcement follows on the heels of the government’s decision to buy 42 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters as replacements for many older aircraft still in service. The F-35 buy included the very likely prospect that Japanese companies would be included in the further development and production of the stealth fighter. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the IHI Corporation, Mitsubishi Electric, Toray Industries, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are all expected to participate in the F-35 project.
The Japanese government has indicated that it expects to spend as much as $20.8 billion on F-35 production and development during the next 20 years. Although it is still not clear what F-35 components will be manufactured in Japan or to what extent production will be assigned to Japanese companies, Japanese leaders consider the F-35 deal to be an opportunity to reduce their procurement costs with the export of key components to other international F-35 buyers.
No decision on production assignments is expected until later this year, although Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the IHI Corporation have tentatively been tapped to participate in the production of F-35 engines slated for delivery to Japan and may also be included in the manufacture of F-35 airframes. It is unknown at this time to what extent the US will be willing to share production of the sophisticated military technology embodied in the F-35.
Easing export restrictions is also expected to afford Japanese manufacturers a unique opportunity to compete in foreign markets thus lowering production costs and opening a revenue flow that doesn’t presently exist in the realm of military sales.