Export of Next-Gen Fighter Jet: An Important Step Toward Deepening Security Cooperation

To protect peace amid an extremely deteriorated security environment, it is natural for Japan to strengthen its defense capabilities, and to this end it should deepen cooperation with friendly countries.

The export policy on defense equipment is an important tool for this goal. It is a step forward that the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito have agreed to allow the export to third countries of the next-generation fighter jet to be jointly developed by Japan, the United Kingdom and Italy.

The fighter will be developed as the successor to the F-2 fighter jet, which has been used by the Air Self-Defense Force since 2000. It will be equipped with advanced stealth features and networked combat capabilities that allow it to work with unmanned aircraft. It is scheduled to be deployed around 2035.

Large equipment such as fighter jets, which are expensive to develop, are very often jointly developed by multiple countries to spread costs. Western countries are actively exporting finished defense products to third countries to further reduce defense costs through mass production.

Japan, meanwhile, has restricted its own exports of defense equipment, and has in principle limited exports of lethal finished products to its ally the United States and to partners in international joint development projects for defense equipment.

If Japan had not reviewed this policy for the next-generation fighter, it would only have been providing technology to the United Kingdom and Italy, and there was a possibility it wouldn’t have been able to benefit from joint development.

If Japan is regarded by the international community as a country with many restrictions, it will likely have fewer chances to participate in the joint development of various types of defense equipment.

Under the new policy, exports of the new fighter will be limited to countries that have concluded agreements with Japan requiring them to use the equipment in a manner compatible with the U.N. Charter. Currently, 15 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, have concluded such agreements, promising, among other things, that equipment exported by Japan will not be used for aggression.

It is only natural for Japan to review its policy on defense equipment exports according to changes in the international environment. The latest decision can be said to be a major shift in security policy. It is important to set strict conditions for exports in keeping with the principles of a peace-loving nation.

However, the only defense equipment the ruling parties are newly allowing to be exported is the next-generation fighter that is to be jointly developed. If the government intends to export jointly developed defense equipment to third countries in the future, it will have to consult with the ruling parties before making a decision. At the insistence of Komeito, a significant hurdle has been imposed.

If the ruling parties’ talks hit difficulties, it could delay joint development, and this could have a negative impact on Japan’s relations with friendly countries.

What is important is that questions of defense equipment exports be decided from the perspective of how to utilize Japanese technology for the sake of world peace.

The government and ruling parties should hold regular discussions on the export of defense equipment to ensure that they share the same understanding.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2024)