Next-Generation Fighter Aircraft: Govt Must Thoroughly Explain Why Export Restrictions should Be Relaxed

It is significant to facilitate exports of defense equipment and rebuild the weakened defense industry. This will help strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities.

While maintaining the principle of a peaceful nation, the government needs to prepare rules for overseas transfers of defense equipment in keeping with the changing times.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and agreed to smoothly promote the joint development of next-generation fighter aircraft by Japan, Italy and Britain.

The Self-Defense Forces currently have three types of fighter aircraft: the F-15, the F-2 and the F-35, of which the F-15 and the F-2 are pointed out to be aging. The deployment of next-generation fighter aircraft is planned to begin around 2035 in anticipation of the older planes’ retirement.

The security environment surrounding Japan is extremely deteriorating. It is important to introduce state-of-the-art aircraft to enhance deterrence. Many companies will be involved in the joint development of next-generation fighter aircraft, including the procurement of parts. A ripple effect on the economy can be expected.

One of the issues surrounding next-generation fighter aircraft is whether to allow exports of the jointly developed fighter jets to third countries other than Britain and Italy.

Japan has long restricted exports of defense equipment. In 1967, the government established the Three Principles on Arms Exports, which restricted exports in a limited manner such as by prohibiting them to countries involved in conflicts. In 1976, the government adopted a unified view that effectively banned exports under the principles altogether.

The current Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology and their operational guidelines limit exports of finished equipment that was jointly developed to only the countries involved in the development.

In the international community, however, it is customary to export jointly developed equipment to third countries. This is to reduce costs through mass production.

Last year, the government entrusted the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito with considering relaxation of the export rules. But Komeito is cautious about the review, bogging down the ruling parties’ deliberations. Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi has stated that public understanding has not yet been obtained as to the exports of lethal weapons.

If Japan alone among the three countries, including Britain and Italy, does not export to third countries, Tokyo would not be able to compensate for the costs of development, and would end up only providing its own technologies to other countries. In addition, the international community would view Japan as a country with significant constraints, making it difficult for Japan to participate in other joint development projects.

For these reasons, the Japanese government hopes to manage to approve exports of next-generation fighter aircraft to third countries by imposing strict conditions, such as examining the political situations in potential third countries as well as the purposes of use and management methods of the equipment.

It goes without saying that a situation must be avoided in which equipment that Japan was involved in developing foments a conflict. It is important for the two parties to assiduously discuss the issue and find a point of agreement.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 8, 2024)