26 Agustus 2010
Shin Meiwa US-2 (photo : Airliners)
Transfers of military technology--on a limited scale--could be an effective way to maintain the nation's vital defense technology while also supporting defense-related companies.
The Defense Ministry is studying a plan to transfer aircraft it developed to private use. The plan includes converting the Maritime Self-Defense Force's US-2 search-and-rescue seaplane to a firefighting flying boat and also converting the XC-2 next-generation transport plane now being developed by the Air Self-Defense Force to a large civilian cargo airplane.
The transfer of military technology to civilian use is unprecedented in this country. But search-and-rescue and transport planes are not really armaments in the first place. Adapting them for civilian use would have no effect on Japan's ideal as a "pacifist nation."
The government would be able to recoup some of its development costs by collecting usage fees from private companies. The procurement costs for Self-Defense Forces planes could also be reduced through the efficiencies of mass production. Manufacturers, for their part, could expect certain levels of earnings because the global demand for firefighting flying boats and cargo airplanes is large.
Kawasaki XC-2 (photo : Airliners)
Transfer of SDF technology to private use would benefit both the private and public sectors. The practice should have been promoted much earlier.
Recent years saw an increasing number of companies withdraw from the military equipment industry due to the continued decrease in defense budgets. The loss of the high-level engineers and specialized manufacturers that are indispensable for the development, production and improvement of such equipment undermines the bedrock of national security.
But at the same time, the security environment surrounding Japan has become grimmer. Under such circumstances, it is essential to maintain a foundation for defense technology even while making more efficient use of defense budgets.
In line with the revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines scheduled within this year, it is important to make a drastic review of the arms export ban.
Regarding military equipment that entails huge development costs, such as the F-35 next-generation fighter jet candidate, joint development involving two or more countries is a global trend. Japan cannot take part in such multinational projects because its principles only allow participation in such projects to be undertaken with the United States.
Review export ban principle
Japan's ban on arms exports applies to almost all nations other than the United States. The government must study limiting the ban to countries involved in international conflicts and those supporting terrorism. We suggest that Japan be at least permitted to undertake joint development of military weapons with ordinary countries and that a system be introduced to screen arms exports on a case-by-case basis.
Allowing the export of purely defensive materiel, such as mine detectors and bulletproof vests, would not harm Japan's image as a pacifist nation.
Both the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party called for transfers of military equipment to private use in their campaign platforms for the House of Councillors election in July. There could be room for cooperation beyond the framework of ruling and opposition parties on the issue of reexamining the export ban.
In the previous Cabinet under former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa expressed positive thoughts about revising the arms export ban. But the review could not take any concrete shape due to opposition from the Social Democratic Party, which was then a member of the ruling coalition.
Now that the SDP has defected from the coalition government, the political barriers to transfers of military technology appear to have been lowered drastically.