Japanese Defense Contractors Make Overseas Pitch After Weapons Export Ban Eased

Japanese defense contractors make overseas pitch after weapons export ban easedJapanese defense contractors for the first time displayed their wares at the Eurosatory international exhibition, taking advantage of the Abe government’s move in April to lift the three-decade ban on weapons exports.

But Japan still faces a number of diplomatic and technological hurdles before it can become a major arms exporter.

About 1,500 defense companies from 58 countries will exhibit their latest weapons and other defense equipment at the Eurosatory in Paris through June 20. The trade show is expected to draw 58,000 military officials and industry participants from 90 countries.

Participant companies displayed large items, such as tanks and armored vehicles, as well as personal equipment, including gas masks and bullets, in the 18-hectare exhibition space.

At the Japanese booth, 13 defense companies, including major manufacturers Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., are pitching their latest equipment, such as armored vehicles and mine detectors, and displaying both real and dummy items.

Facial-authentication systems, searchlights and other civilian goods were also shown at the joint Japanese booth.

In April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet approved the new “three principles of arms transfer,” allowing Japan to export weapons to countries under certain conditions.

The government explained that Japan would be at a disadvantage if it was completely banned from taking part in international efforts to jointly develop defense equipment.

Previously, the Japanese defense industry could only supply the Self-Defense Forces. It now expects growth through exports of weapons and other defense-related equipment.

“We have reined in our export business (because of the previous regulations), but now we can enterprisingly sell products with technical advantages in overseas markets,” said Masami Yamamoto, president of Fujitsu Ltd.

Fujitsu supplies information systems to defense authorities in Britain and other countries. To expand its overseas defense-related business, the company in May took over a U.S. information technology company that has strength in management of weapons parts.

However, the majority of Japanese defense contractors maintain a cautious stance toward actively marketing weapons overseas because the issue could affect Japan’s diplomatic relations and national defense.

“We have no plans to market our products overseas on our own initiative,” said Akihiro Matsuyama, an executive officer of Mitsubishi Electric Corp., which manufacturers missiles and radar equipment. “We will conduct our business in accordance with and within the scope of the government’s intentions.”

Makoto Asari, CEO of Tokyo-based defense consultant Crisis Intelligence Co., which coordinated the joint participation of 13 Japanese companies in the Eurosatory, said, “Participants in the Japan booth, as well as visitors, seem to have a wait-and-see attitude.”