Japan’s Defense Industry Lifeline
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

Japan’s Defense Industry Lifeline


By deciding this week to relax its rules prohibiting the export of defense equipment, the new Japanese administration of Yoshihiko Noda has done something that local defense industry and the country’s security experts have for many years been crying out for.

Until now, the numbers just didn’t add up for Japan’s big defense firms, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Their only customer, the Japanese government, has stubbornly held defense spending below 1 percent of GDP, with much of that money going towards imported American weaponry; indeed, the defense budget has generally been declining in recent years. And with hi-tech defense equipment becoming ever more expensive to develop, Japan’s defense industry was facing an unenviable life away from the cutting edge of military technology. In another business sector that might not have been so disastrous, but the death of a country’s defense industry brings with it considerable security risks – especially when you live in a neighborhood as uncertain as Japan’s.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, who announced the policy shift, stressed that the Three Principles on Arms Exports, which govern defense sales, would remain in place. This means that arms export opportunities will still be restricted and subject to government approval on a case-by-case basis; most importantly, companies will still be prevented from selling equipment that might end up being used in anger. However, new “criteria regarding overseas transfers of defense equipment” will enable Japan to jointly develop military equipment with other countries.

It’s grimly ironic that this decision, which is an important tonic for Japan’s increasingly moribund defense industry, came within days of Tokyo’s announcement that it is to procure the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft. The F-35 is exactly the kind of collaborative project that Japanese industry needs to be a part of – an opportunity to draw on technological expertise from the cream of the global defense industry, and to share in the work of developing and building an advanced new aircraft. Unfortunately, the government’s rethink came too late for Japanese industry to participate meaningfully in this important international project: as it is, none of the systems in the F-35 will be Japanese, and Japan’s own F-35s will merely be assembled in Japanese plants.

Having already missed out on the biggest international defense collaboration currently out there – and perhaps the biggest that will ever be – Japanese industry can at least now focus on the positives of this week’s decision. The government will of course be slow, as Japanese governments are, to ease its restrictions on defense exports. However, opportunities to sell kit overseas should now increase. Precedents already exist. In 2006 Japan sold patrol vessels to Indonesia: a benign and sensible sale to a country that needs help in building up its under-strength navy. And just last month, Tokyo gave the green light for ShinMaywa Industries to respond to an Indian government RfI for a search-and-rescue seaplane. Japan should be able to sell this kind of equipment to scores of countries around the world without compromising its pacifist principles, and for the sake of its domestic industry it needs to start doing so aggressively.

No less important is the prospect of engaging in meaningful development programs with other countries. Importing weaponry does nothing for local industry, while developing advanced systems yourself is becoming prohibitively expensive. Japan can now build on its existing security relationships to start developing defense technology with its allies and so get the most out of its defense dollars. An obvious opportunity is coming up imminently in the form of the development of Japan’s indigenous stealth fighter, the Shinshin ATD-X. If Tokyo is genuine about wanting to develop the Shinshin – something that many aviation analysts continue to question – it can now call on the expertise of Boeing, which is frozen out of the F-35 program, or a second-rank F-35 participant like BAE Systems. Better still, it could follow the South Korean-Indonesian model and find a friendly country to share the development costs with.

Pacifism will remain at the heart of Japanese government policy, but there’s now a sense that not even pacifism should be allowed to stand in the way of national security. The Noda government has made the right decision. If Japan wants to be able to defend itself adequately in the years to come, it’s now important that his government and the ones that come after not only stick to it, but also build on it. 

Combrade Nobody
February 18, 2013 at 04:22

Improve your economy, technology and talk later.

January 6, 2012 at 02:05

I stopped buying Sony products and the like and started buying Samsung because they are just as good but not as expensive for the same technology.

January 5, 2012 at 21:42

India must become a strong partner for Japanese weapons export. After all India’s weapons industry is in a mess. Ventures with the Japanese will give India the much needed advancement and standards.

Tommy Lam
January 4, 2012 at 18:12

Japanese feel left out. After many years of mismanaging the country the bureaucrats needed somewhere to divert the county’s attention from their incompetency.
Population growth is in double digit decline but the racist bureaucrats would resist against opening doors to immigration like Canada, Australia in the past have done.
Japanese politicians are driven by pride of past glory days and ignorance. Japanese people use to walk around Asia’s shopping with a glitter.
Now anyone in Asia below the age of 27 thought the Japanese are Koreans. Its the ultimate insult for them.
Five bastions of Japan’s top electronic firms combined have lost to a small Korean company in total sales.
While they have lost all at least they still haven’t lost their pride.
So they have to tell themselves that their war technology at least is better than Samsung!
Gambatte Japan!

January 3, 2012 at 17:20

@Joe P,

I don’t know how deep you know that part of history, but “the CCP mistreats the Tibetans, the Uighars, and pretty much any other ethnicity and ideology” really have a Japanese prototype during 1936-1945, you can safely say CCP learn pretty much from their Japanese predecessor,from Manchuria government and Nanking Wang Government which is expressed as government fully support under Japanese bayonet, harmonious society under Japanese Katana, besides Japanese immigrate to Manchuria and claim the land is as new as US, OK, if Manchuria can be viewed in this way, why should care about Xinjiang and Tibet?
Besides, Xinjiang is heavily influenced by China and it’s a period earlier than Uighur existence in that area.
Japanese here act as teacher teaching Chinese all the malakia of the logic of predator, bandit, and use eight years to teach you how a weak nation is been fucked, bullied by their powerful neighbors, and it’s absolutely right in a world full of predators.
Japanese invasion of China is used as a lesson by CCP thousand times that people should act as predator, forget about all Chinese traditions of kindness, fair etc, it do not exist.

January 3, 2012 at 13:18

@Joe P,
Exactly, CCP is a born malaka, what communism boast, how many money we have in your pocket? You put them on the power, what you expect them to do? Act like saint? Give fair to everybody called “People’s”? Boost Buddhism which the zen of Communism denounce any religious, they think they’re Buddha, God if you believe any religious, you should worship them.
Now try to elect someone “Communist” as president of US, let’s see how they act? You see Romania already, fantastic, right?

Johnathan Tran
January 3, 2012 at 12:25

Look at how China and its CCP are being isolated on the World stage, while Vietnam is making more friends they could handle; because of China’s bullying behavior.

John Chan
January 3, 2012 at 02:29

Japan is unlawfully occupying Ryukyu Kingdom, when is Japan going to get out of Ryukyu Kingdom to honour Japan’s fake pacifist constitution?

Japanese have learnt nothing from the war crimes they committed since Meiji restoration, otherwise they would show remorse like the Germans, and would not rewrite their textbooks to whitewash their war crimes.

History has proven that Japan never knows how to work together with others, all it knows is war and atrocity; the only time Japan knows to work together with other (USA only), is after WWII, under the tight leash of the big bad bully USA.

John Chan
January 3, 2012 at 02:00

@Viet Nguyen,
Chinese never forget the dark days of Imperialist suppression and exploitation, that’s why China is determined to be independent and fighting hard against those bad old Imperialists and Fascists’ aggression.

But Vietnamese not only have forgotten their dark days of colonization by the Imperialists and Fascists, they are willingly to be the lackeys of their old colonial masters to attack China. They shameless betrayed their forefathers’ hard fought independence, meanwhile enjoying the benefits from China’s economic prowess.

Vietnam is the aggressor in the SCS, it not only encroaches China’s islands, and it also invaded Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia islands too. Vietnam must be reined in so that peace can return to the SCS.

If world economy goes bad, Vietnam should worry itself more than China, because China will squeeze Vietnam’s products out of world markets instead of moving up the value chain. Consumers only care good deals; they don’t care about where the goods are made. Even Bangladesh will do better than Vietnam in a world economy downturn, because there are more Bangladesh products in North American than products from Vietnam.

John Chan
January 3, 2012 at 01:30

@Chaxiu Bao,
The nine-dotted line delineates China’s territory in the SCS; so are the Daioyu Islands and Taiwan China’s territories too. Only nations want to encroach China’s territory will say otherwise.

The bad land grabbing in China is China’s internal affairs, it is none of foreigners’ business besides China is taking actions to rectify the problems. Bad land grabbing happens all over the world, not just in China.

January 3, 2012 at 00:55

Probably, economically we are down but not out. We are together with other Asians to fight against greedy red China. We Japanese don’t think highly of Chinese capability in general. Militarily, there is nothing for you to be proud of, even with a militia border force, the Vietnamese could beat Chinese like crap. You Chinese are Japanese wannabe after all copying anything Japanese from products to economy models and now following our imperial footstep in SCS.

Viet Nguyen
January 3, 2012 at 00:03

John Chan, you forgot to mention the Chinese also invaded Vietnam and got beaten up many times. You also missed to mention that the Japanese, French and Americans have also occupied and made a good meal out of China. More importantly, China still kissing ass to those countries, etc.

Having said that, as human, one would have to forget, forgive and move on. FYI, the French, the Japanese, the Brits, the German and the Americans also killing one another thru out mankind history. If you want to learn, it’s called human’s nature. Oh, look, how come all those people are still shaking hands, smiling and making deals with one another, which including the Chinese and the Vietnamese? And wouldn’t you notice that the Chinese elite are also killing the ordernary Chinese in various democracy uprising, as well as the ongoing land grabbing? How about what the Kim dynasty has done to its own people in North Korea?

For China, sea grabbing intention is truth. The 9 dotted line map on SCS is a fake excuses to cover for CCP’s sea grabbing ambition. China economy is heading south and it will be so, due to China’s CCP and PLA aggressive behaviours to other smaller and peaceful nations. The EU and the US economy are partly causing China’s economic down turn, however, a more concerning issue, the CCP should be worried about is, the ongoing whispering throught out the World’s people mouth (don’t buy anything Made in China).

January 2, 2012 at 22:02

well said mate, The allies tend to forget that some of the war criminals were lapped up by their defense sectors.

January 2, 2012 at 21:33

I don’t think China has the record of invading other countries in modern history but not so for Japan. Intrinsically Japan does not show remorse for her WWII crimes.

January 2, 2012 at 18:52

Japan is a stagnant power with a “can do but don’t want to” nuclear capability and the technological expertise to develop advanced weapons systems and a top-notch defense industry.However as is the case in so many countries,politics interfere with national security and economic prosperity.

So we end up with poor quality Japanese tech,like the Howa line of rifles and the abysmal Mitsubishi fighters…not to mention indigenous Japanese tanks,which are still as terrible as the armor Japan fielded in WW2.

January 2, 2012 at 15:50

Those who committed war crimes in WW2 are now dead, and are not “still in power” in Japan, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, France, or in any other nation which was a participant in WW2.

War crimes aren’t only committed by the losing side.

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