The first-ever joint exercise by the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) and the British Royal Air Force, dubbed “Guardian North 16,” took place at the ASDF’s Misawa Base (in Misawa City, Aomori Prefecture) from mid-October. A senior SDF officer reveals that “the UK’s purpose in deepening exchanges is to sell its weapons and technology and to lay the groundwork for joint arms development with Japan.”
The two governments agreed on the exercise at the two-plus-two meeting of their foreign and defense ministers in January, but a Foreign Ministry source says that “the British side made a strong push, so Japan had to consent.” Another senior SDF officer offers the analysis that in light of the Abe administration’s lifting the ban on arms exports, “the UK is trying to find ways to engage in joint technical development with Japan or to export weapons and technology to Japan.”
In fact, the two countries have begun joint development of air-to-air missiles for the cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighters. There is a strong opinion in the Defense Ministry and the SDF that “Japan’s joint development, arms exports, and provision of technology tend to be heavily focused on the U.S. alone. From the standpoint of multifaceted diplomacy, the scope of military cooperation should also be broadened.”
However, the UK is also dealing with Japan shrewdly. It decided to procure the U.S.’s Boeing P-8 reconnaissance planes instead of Japan’s P-1 model late last year, so there is no guarantee that Japan’s arms exports will actually increase.