Japan approves plan to sell fighter jets to other nations in latest break with pacifist principles

Tokyo Japan –

Japan’s cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan to sell future next-generation fighter jets it is developing with Britain and Italy to other countries, in the latest departure from the country’s post-war pacifist principles.

The controversial decision to allow international arms sales is expected to help secure Japan’s role in the joint fighter jet project and is part of a move to strengthen Japan’s arms industry and bolster its role in global security.

The Cabinet also backed a review of Japan’s weapons technology and equipment transfer guidelines to allow co-produced lethal weapons to be sold to countries other than partners.

Japan has long restricted arms exports under the country’s pacifist constitution, but has quickly moved to deregulate amid rising regional and global tensions, especially from nearby China.

The decision on the planes will allow Japan to export lethal weapons that it co-produces to other countries for the first time.

Japan is working with Italy and the United Kingdom to develop an advanced fighter jet to replace its aging fleet of U.S.-designed F-2 fighters and the Eurofighter Typhoons used by the U.K. and Italian armies.

Japan, which was previously working on a local design to be called FX, agreed in December 2022 to merge its effort with a British-Italian program called Tempest. for deployment in 2035. The joint project, known as the Global Combat Air Program or GCAP, is based in the United Kingdom.

Japan hopes the new aircraft will offer the advanced capabilities Japan needs amid rising tensions in the region, giving it a technological advantage over regional rivals China and Russia.

Due to its wartime past as an aggressor and the devastation that followed its defeat in World War II, Japan adopted a constitution that limits its military to self-defense. The country has long maintained a strict policy to limit transfers of military equipment and technology and ban all exports of lethal weapons.

Opponents have criticized Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government for committing to the fighter jet project without providing an explanation to the public or seeking approval for the major policy change.

To address these concerns, the government is limiting exports of lethal weapons co-developed to the aircraft for now and has promised no sales for use in active wars.

The government also assured that the revised guideline currently only applies to aircraft and would require Cabinet approval to do so. Potential buyers will also be limited to the 15 countries with which Japan has signed defense partnership and equipment transfer agreements.

Recent polls suggest public opinion is divided on the plan.

In 2014, Japan began exporting some non-lethal military supplies and, in a final move last December, approved a change that would allow licensors to sell 80 lethal weapons and components it makes under licenses from other countries. The change paved the way for Japan to sell American-designed Patriot missiles, helping to replace munitions Washington is sending to Ukraine.

In its decision, the Cabinet said a ban on arms exports in finished products would hamper efforts to develop the new aircraft and limit Japan to a supporting role in the project. Italy and the United Kingdom are eager to sell the plane to defray development and manufacturing costs.

Kishida sought Cabinet approval before signing the GCAP deal in February, but was delayed by resistance from his junior coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komeito party.

The change also comes as Kishida is planning a state visit to Washington in April, where he is expected to emphasize Japan’s willingness to take a larger role in military and defense industry partnerships.

Exports would also help boost Japan’s defense industry, which has historically supplied only the country’s Self-Defense Forces, as Kishida seeks to strengthen the military. Despite his efforts over the past decade, the industry has still struggled to attract customers.

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