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News Analysis: Japan eyes F-35 development hub as it swifts to ease arms export ban

English.news.cn   2014-04-03 21:46:05

TOKYO, April 3 (Xinhua) -- Japan's Ministry of Defense (MOD) on Thursday suggested that Japan may serve as a maintenance hub for the F-35 stealth fighter jet operation, involving a number of nations involved in the development of the fifth-generation multirole fighter.

Following Japan relaxing its self-imposed embargo on weapons exports, the defense ministry said it has potentially earmarked Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Komaki Minami Plant, in Aichi Prefecture, as the stealth fighters' maintenance hub in the Asia Pacific region, as Mitsubishi will be involved in the production of the fighter.

The MOD, specifically Japan's Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), has been focusing more of its attention on achieving what it has previously described as "superior air-combat capability" in five year mid-term, and longer-term defense and security strategies, and the allocation of funds have been made available to possibly replace the JASDF's aging mainstay F-15 fighters with at least 42 F-35's.

The fifth-generation multirole, stealth fighter jets, have been selected by Japan's MOD as its future mainstay fighter as the jet offers superior stealth capabilities, second only to that of the U. S. F-22 Raptor, with a radar cross-section roughly equal to the size of a metal golf ball, making the jet largely undetectable to radars.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) wants companies here to be involved in the production of the jet and provide superlative technical and logistical support as Japan's aviation industry is widely regarded as being in a technical league of its own. Japan's involvement in the assembly and avionics of the plane will likely greatly reduce procurement costs, defense ministry officials said Thursday.

The move would also provide a myriad of much-needed economic opportunities at a time when Japan is battling to rein in its public debt at more than twice the size of GDP and the worst in the industrialized world, and defense ministry officials said Thursday that Japan's involvement will "boost the competitiveness of the domestic industry by taking part in joint development and production."

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., has been earmarked to be involved in work on the F-35's mainframe structures, while IHI Corp. will provide its expertise on the jet's engines and related systems, sources familiar with the matter have said.

Mitsubishi Electric Corp. has also been slated to be involved in the production of the jet's highly sensitive mission-related avionics, the sources said.

Lockheed Martin has said that Japan could feasibly become " global suppliers to the F-35 stealth fighter program," with Japanese contractors being in a position to bid for a myriad of lucrative defense contracts in the U.S. and elsewhere, now the weapons ban has been eased.

But defense analysts said that the move may run contrary to Japan's own "pacifist" stance at a time when geopolitical tensions in the Asia Pacific region are heightening.

However, in twine with boosting its own military hardware, Japan is looking to the economic benefits of hosting the F-35's maintenance hub could bring, with a further aim to utilize its domestic manufacturers to tap-into foreign markets and make further cost-effective purchases of military hardware, including ships, aircraft carriers, jets, helicopters, missiles and next- generation electronic and laser-based weapons, through wholesale purchases and production-affiliated subsidies.

As Japanese companies up until now have been limited to providing their technology primarily to Japan's Self-Defense Forces, defense contacts here have not been lucrative enough to keep small and mid-sized firms interested.

But with the weapons export ban eased, smaller firms will be in line to bid for defense contracts, and regarding the F-35 project, Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems, is keen to work with a myriad of international partners, including Japan, on the F-35 program.

The jet, currently the Pentagon's biggest arms program, is being developed with additional support from Britain, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Canada.

A great deal of interest in the program has additionally been shown from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil and India, according to defense analysts with knowledge of the matter, with eight country having already committed to buying the jets, including the Netherlands, Britain, Italy, Australia, Norway, Israel, Japan and, more recently, South Korea.

But while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stressed that recent security protocol shifts, including easing the weapons export ban and increased military spending are in a bid for Japan to better contribute to global peace and security, concerns remain rife that Abe's right-leaning administration is acting against the nation's Constitution in a manner deemed combative, some observers have said.

Japan's weapons ban was originally imposed in 1976 and was made watertight in the years thereafter, in line with the nation's pacifist Constitution, although exceptions were made with weapons- related technologies being exported to the U.S. and other joint U. S. weapons related projects.

Japan's shift away from its weapons export embargo is concerning a number of its neighboring countries and the wider international community who are in favor of Japan upholding its chronicled pacifist stance, with observers stating that the new guidelines will directly contravene Japan's Constitution.

Recent moves by Abe leave little doubt that the hawkish leader is edging closer to lifting the nation's self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, a potentially dire scenario that, political and defense analysts have repeated stated makes a mockery of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which forbids the use of force as a means of settling international disputes and also prohibits Japan from maintaining an army, navy or air force.

Editor: Tang Danlu
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