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The front line of Japan’s defense (Part 4): “Technology can no longer be handed down”

The Japan Association of Defense Industry, an entity comprised of defense-related companies, held a meeting to exchange New Year’s greetings in Tokyo on Jan. 9. “With the growing procurement of defense equipment from overseas, we are in a severe environment,” said JADI Chairman Tamotsu Saito, 66, who is president and CEO of IHI Corporation. “There are some companies withdrawing from the defense business,” he added.

 

Saito made the comment bearing in mind Foreign Military Sales (FMS) in which the Japanese government directly makes contracts with the U.S. government to procure defense equipment. The amount of FMS procurement, earmarked in the FY2019 draft budget, totaled about 700 billion yen, a threefold increase compared with five years ago. The more the Japanese government purchases U.S.-manufactured defense equipment, the smaller the Japanese defense industry’s share becomes. The Japanese government will procure 12 “P-1” patrol planes manufactured in Japan under the new Medium Term Defense Program for FY 2019 to FY2023. This is nearly half the purchase under the current medium term program for FY2014 to FY2018.

 

On Jan. 16, Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) Commissioner Nobuaki Miyama, 60, asked senior officials of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency to “increase the transparency of prices [for defense equipment].” The procurement cost of U.S.-manufactured equipment including F-35 fighters is higher than initially estimated in many cases, which has strained Japan’s defense budget. Curbing the FMS procurement is a priority matter for the ATLA.

 

Japanese defense companies now have expectations for the development of a successor to the current F-2 support fighter, which will retire beginning around 2030. The F-2 is a model Japan and the U.S. jointly developed. After the government approved the next medium term program at the end of last year, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, 61, said, “Japan will take the lead in the development of a highly capable fighter with Japan’s full-scale efforts.”

 

Former Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, 63, and some other Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers associated with national defense met in the Diet on Jan. 23 for a study meeting to discuss the follow-on fighter jet. In the meeting were representatives from the defense industry. One of them said, “We want the government to start development early.” Another said, “Our technology can no longer be handed down.” Aiming to develop the next support fighter on Japan’s own, the Defense Ministry has tested the X-2, an advanced technology prototype, for stealth and other functions, since 2016.

 

In mid-January, Administrative Vice-Minister of Defense Kenichi Takahashi, 61, instructed the ministry’s working teams to do the spadework on the ruling parties, the defense industry and foreign governments [for Japan’s development of the next fighter jet model]. The total cost of the project for developing the next support fighter is about 6 trillion yen. Without gaining sufficient understandings from stakeholders, the development process could be delayed.

 

“This is a bad sign,” said a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries official one year ago after learning of a development plan submitted to the Defense Ministry by a U.S. major defense company, Lockheed Martin. It was a plan to remodel the F-22 Raptor, reputed to be the world’s strongest fighter, for Japan’s next fighter. “If the government adopts the Lockheed plan, Japan’s defense industry can no longer survive,” warned former Air Systems Research Center [of the ATLA] chief Masami Kageyama, 65. He participated in the F-2 development project. The government will decide on the final plan to develop Japan’s next support fighter by the summer of next year. However, nothing guarantees that Japan will take the lead in the development.

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