Japan OK’s 3rd-Party Exports of Next-Generation Fighter Jet; New Plane to Be Jointly Developed with Italy, U.K.

Courtesy of Defense Ministry
A rendering of the next-generation fighter jet being developed by Japan, the United Kingdom and Italy

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan to allow exports of next-generation fighter jets, which Japan will jointly develop with Britain and Italy, to third-party countries. The government also revised the implementation guidelines for the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology at a meeting of the nine ministers of the National Security Council the same day.

As joint development is becoming a mainstream trend for acquiring advanced defense equipment, the government has paved the way for Japan to discuss the fighter jet development program with partners Britain and Italy on an equal footing.

The move marks a turning point in the security policy of Japan, which has in principle limited exports of finished lethal products to specific countries, such as joint development partners.

The Cabinet’s approval of third-party exports will apply only to the next-generation fighter jets. Also, the government adopted strict procedures that require Cabinet approval for each individual case when the jets are actually to be exported to other countries. The ruling parties will also be involved in a pre-screening process.

As for export destinations, the revised guidelines state that the fighter jets shall be exported only to countries that have signed international agreements requiring them to use the fighter jets in ways consistent with the purpose and principles of the United Nations Charter. Currently, Japan has signed such agreements with 15 nations including the United States, Britain, Australia and some Southeast Asian countries. The government excluded countries involved in ongoing armed conflicts from the scope of potential export destinations.

“With this decision, Japan is able to ensure a position that allows us to make the same contribution as Britain and Italy. We will aim to build fighter jets that are suitable for the country’s security environment,” Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said at a press conference after the Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning, emphasizing the significance of the decision to allow the exports of the next-generation fighter jets.

The next-generation fighter jet is positioned as the successor to the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-2 fighter jet. It is expected to have high stealth capabilities and be capable of working with drones and other equipment in combat. Japan, Britain and Italy plan to officially start negotiations on the structure of the development program and the allocation of tasks, aiming to deploy the fighter jets in fiscal 2035.

Allowing the exports of the next-generation fighter jets to third-party countries was agreed between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito.

The existing implementation guidelines allow transfers of defense equipment in five areas such as rescue and transportation, and the five areas were not reviewed this time. Opinions remain divided between the LDP, which calls for abolishing those classifications, and Komeito, which insists on reviewing them.