Japanese firms enter arms race after five decades

Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force's soldiers take part in a joint landing exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, earlier this year.   | Photo Credit: KYODO

Some of Japan’s biggest companies, best known for motorcycles, washing machines and laptop computers, are pitching a new line of global products: military hardware.

Quiet-running attack submarines. Amphibious search-and-rescue planes. Ship-mounted radar systems that use lasers to help pinpoint approaching enemies.

After a ban on weapons exports that the Japanese government had maintained for nearly 50 years, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Hitachi, Toshiba and other military contractors in this semi-pacifist country are cautiously but unmistakably telling the world they are open for business.

A maritime security exposition here in May was the first military industry trade show in Japan, organisers and participants said. And it was the first anywhere to feature the Japanese manufacturers.

“I’ve never seen them,” said Maj. Gen. Mick Fairweather, a procurement specialist with the Australian armed forces, who regularly attends such expos around the world. “It’s going to be a growing thing.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the prohibition on military exports last year, part of a loosening of restrictions on Japan’s military power that were put in place after its defeat in World War II.

Mr. Abe is counting on increased military-related trade to help cement ties with other countries in the region that share Japan’s wariness of China. Southeast Asian nations and India are high on the list of potential customers.

Japan hopes Australia, a fellow Pacific democracy, will be a receptive market for Soryu-class submarines, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding. The subs, which cost about 50 billion yen, or $410 million, use ultraquiet diesel-electric drives that make them hard for adversaries to detect.

Mitsubishi Heavy is also working on a prototype amphibious assault vehicle, used for landing troops on hostile seashores, that could eventually compete with American-designed vehicles used by the U.S. Marine Corps.

Less than one per cent of Japan’s industrial output is military-related, and only four Japanese companies are among the top 100 arms producers ranked by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a watchdog group. The biggest, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, earns less than a 10th the revenue from military sales as the top U.S. military contractor, Lockheed Martin. — New York Times News Service

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 6:12:30 PM |

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