Japan Ends Arms Export Ban , But Who wants to Buy?

TOKYO — Japanese Government is considering selling air defense radar technology to the Philippines in what would be its first export of defense equipment since ending a nearly 50-year ban in 2014.

The new conditions would allow Japan to jointly develop arms with allies and give its defense industry access to new markets and technology, lifting self-imposed arms embargo seen by many as a strategic maneuver to counter Chinese influence in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

In the recent times, China is adept in combining military sticks with trade and investment as economic carrots. China offers line of credit to countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Maldives, Chile and Pakistan to force them accept low quality military equipment in return of trade and investment.

This approach is very effective in exerting psychological pressure on militarily weak Southeast Asian countries, forcing them to acquiesce to China’s domination. These countries will eventually become completely helpless in the face of Chinese debt diplomacy, eventually accepting China’s would-be regional hegemony.

Hence, Japan must strive to ease the impact of China’s psychological pressure on Southeast Asian countries. Such an approach would be particularly effective when combined with the reinforced U.S. freedom of navigation and overflight operations that the Trump administration will likely pursue, supplemented by Japan’s related military operations.

Tokyo is trying to counter offer by sounding out the Philippines about buying an upgraded model of the Mitsubishi Electric-made FPS-3 air defense radar system, which Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force has used since 1991 in missile defense and monitoring airspace incursions. Tokyo has already begun offering technical information on the system to Manila.

Japan’s thinking goes that upgrading the less-than-cutting-edge radar to meet the Philippines’ needs will keep costs down, helping it win orders. The price is expected to be between $8.87 million and $17.7 million. Manila has also approached the U.S. and Israel on the matter, according to a source connected to the Japanese government, and may decide as early as the start of next year.

Japan’s arms transfers items range from refurbished decommissioned coast guard vessels, SDF propeller training aircraft, armored vehicle, military trucks and helicopter which soon will be transferred to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Japan aims to sell the Philippines an upgraded version of the FPS-3 air defense radar system made by Mitsubishi Electric.
FPS-3 air defense radar system made by Mitsubishi Electric.   Source: Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force

Japan’s defense cooperation with the Philippines, which had centered on joint military exercises, has expanded into defense equipment in recent years. In March, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force donated TC-90 trainer craft to the Philippine navy. And Japan agreed in June to grant parts for multi-mission UH-1H helicopters formerly used by the Ground Self-Defense Force to the Philippine air force.

The two sides are interested in partnering on maritime security as China continues to build up its military presence in the South China Sea, a vital sea lane for goods and energy shipments for both Tokyo and Manila. By exporting air-defense radars to the Philippines, Japan hopes to improve the Southeast Asian country’s detection and surveillance capabilities and help maintain safety in the region.

The Japanese cabinet laid out basic rules letting the country transfer defense equipment and technology and participate in international joint development under certain conditions, such as when it contributes to Japan’s security. Selling the radars to the Philippines was judged appropriate because it would further bilateral defense cooperation.

Japan produces high-tech and modern military machine in the world such as Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft , Kawasaki C-1 EW aircraft, Kawasaki C-2 heavy transport aircraft, J/APG-1 AESA radar, J/APG-2 AESA radar, FPS-3 air defense radar, Kawasaki OH-1, type 03 Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile Chu-SAM, type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile, type 10 Main Battle Tank, type 16 Maneuver Combat Vehicle, type 96 Wheeled Armored Personnel, many more but Japan has one big problem everything Japan manufacture, it’s super expensive to buy for Asian countries who barely have $2 billion ~$7 billion defense budget except for India and Singapore.

Japan wanted to sale second hand Mitsubishi F-2 fighter jet ( F-2 is based on General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon with J/APG-2 AESA radar and advanced EW suite) but it would be difficult for Japanese government to find a buyer for high-tech and expensive F-2 fighter jet.

The United Arab Emirates wanted to purchase Japan’s C-2 transport plane made by Kawasaki Heavy Industries but this deal may also be doomed. The UAE said it “cannot purchase [the C-2] if nothing is done” to include the capability for take off and landing on unpaved runways.

Tokyo has not yet sold any defense equipment under the new rules. Japan sought to build Soryu-class submarine for Australia, but lost the deal to France Naval Group’s Shortfin Barracuda in 2016. An effort to sell Kawasaki P-1 patrol jets to the U.K. and India fell short, lost to American Boeing P-8 Poseidon, and Japan lost a bid to supply radar for the Thai air force to a Spanish company.

India wanted to procure the US-2 search-and-rescue amphibian aircraft made by ShinMaywa Industries. The steep price tag of about $91 million each worries New Delhi, which was also demanding local production and technology transfers as part of the deal.

The transfer of technology has become a norm of Southeast Asian countries which have left behind for many decades wants to get their hands on advanced technology. Japan never transferred technology nor shared classified defense trade secrets to any country other than USA, Japan needs to overcome self-imposed cultural barriers to share information with the buyers.

Japan has never developed weapons with a view to export, instead focusing on their suitability for domestic forces. This has isolated its arms industry from the needs of other countries, hindering the appeal of Japanese weaponry with overseas clients.

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