Japan alters arms export rules, allows shipment of Patriot Missiles to U.S. in response to Ukraine’s ammo shortage

Previously, Japan’s arms export rules only permitted the shipment of components of licensed equipment to the country holding the manufacturing license. However, the recent policy revision allows Japan to send fully assembled goods, reflecting a more proactive approach to contributing to global security efforts.

Japan has announced a significant departure from its pacifist stance by altering its arms export rules, allowing the country to send Patriot air defence missiles to the United States. The White House has expressed approval of this decision, as it opens the possibility for the U.S. to provide its stockpile of weaponry to Ukraine, which is facing a shortage of ammunition in its defence against Russia’s invasion.

Under the revised regulations, Japan is no longer restricted to sending only components of licensed equipment but can now ship fully assembled goods. This marks a notable shift in Japan’s policy, which previously limited the export of finished military products to the nation holding the manufacturing license.

The decision by Japan to send Patriot missiles to the United States marks a significant shift in its longstanding pacifist policies. Patriot missiles, recognized as highly advanced weaponry, have been a key component of the United States’ support to Ukraine in its defence against Russia’s invasion.

Previously, Japan’s arms export rules only permitted the shipment of components of licensed equipment to the country holding the manufacturing license. However, the recent policy revision allows Japan to send fully assembled goods, reflecting a more proactive approach to contributing to global security efforts.

In a swift response to the updated regulations, Japan’s foreign ministry promptly announced its intention to dispatch Patriot missiles to the United States. The move is framed as a strategic measure to “further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance,” underlining Tokyo’s commitment to bolstering international cooperation and security partnerships in the face of evolving geopolitical challenges.

The Japanese foreign ministry clarified that the Patriot missiles would exclusively be sent to the United States and emphasized that any potential transfer to a third country would necessitate Japan’s explicit approval. Japan continues to uphold a prohibition on exporting weapons to countries engaged in active conflict.

This arrangement implies that Japan-made Patriot missiles could serve to replenish the United States’ stockpile, creating a reciprocal scenario where Washington, in turn, might provide U.S.-made missiles to Ukraine. Notably, in Japan, the manufacturing of Patriot missiles is carried out by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries under a licensing agreement with U.S. defence contractors Lockheed Martin and RTX.

The shift in Japan’s defence export rules, allowing the sending of Patriot missiles to the United States, follows a reported request from the U.S. government. This marks the first alteration of such rules by Tokyo since 2014.

The timing of this policy change coincides with the recent failure of the U.S. Congress to approve a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine, despite an appeal from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In response to the pressing need for military assistance in Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion, the adjustment in Japan’s defence export rules allows for increased collaboration between Japan and the United States in addressing the supply shortage of advanced weaponry.

Ukraine has issued a warning that a decrease in foreign aid is compelling them to scale back certain military operations. For months, Ukraine has been seeking increased air defence support from the United States. This plea comes amidst the ongoing conflict with Russia, where a shortage of resources has become a critical concern for Ukrainian forces.

In a separate development, Tokyo is reportedly contemplating the export of 155mm artillery shells to the United Kingdom. The consideration stems from Japan’s licensing agreement with London-based BAE Systems, allowing them to manufacture these artillery shells. The decision on which equipment to provide to specific countries is expected to be made by Japan’s National Security Council on a case-by-case basis. These moves highlight the complex and evolving dynamics of international cooperation, with nations like Japan responding to urgent requests and exploring avenues to support allies facing security challenges

Reason for a shift in Japan’s defence policy

The shift in Japan’s defence export rules reflects a notable departure from its historical pacifist stance. Following World War II, Japan adopted a constitution that strictly prohibited the country from engaging in warfare, except in cases of self-defence. This constitution does not officially recognize the military and restricts its capabilities solely to self-defence purposes.

Additionally, Japan imposed a ban on arms exports, a measure that was relaxed in 2014 for the first time in almost 50 years under then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This move, aimed at expanding Japan’s defence capabilities and contributing to international security efforts, was met with suspicion, particularly from China.

The recent adjustment in defence export rules, allowing Japan to send fully assembled military goods, signifies an evolving approach in response to global security challenges.

The revision to Japan’s arms transfer policy marks a significant development, allowing the export of weapons and components manufactured in Japan under foreign licenses back to the licensing nations. This is a notable departure from Japan’s longstanding arms export ban and represents the first major revision since the easing of restrictions on non-lethal weapons transfers in 2014.

Under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration, there is an ongoing effort to further relax the policy. The aim is to permit the sale of jointly developed lethal weapons to third countries. An example of this collaborative effort is the next-generation fighter jet that Japan is co-developing with Britain and Italy. This move signifies Japan’s evolving approach to defence and international cooperation, allowing for increased flexibility in arms exports and partnerships in the development of advanced military technologies.

U.S. Ambassador’s response

The U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, has commended Japan for its significant contribution to the “reform and modernization” of the alliance between the two nations. Ambassador Emanuel specifically highlighted Japan’s efforts in enhancing its military capabilities and increasing defence spending, acknowledging the country’s commitment to strengthening its role in the bilateral alliance.

Moreover, Emanuel praised Japan’s decision to allow the shipment of Japanese-made Patriot-guided missiles to the United States. This move is seen as a crucial step in addressing the decreasing inventory of such missiles in the U.S. arsenal. The collaboration in this regard showcases the close alliance between Japan and the United States, with both nations working together to ensure the effectiveness and readiness of their defence capabilities.

Patriot missile

The PATRIOT missile system is a comprehensive surface-to-air defence system that includes various components such as a missile frame, radar, engagement control station, launching station, and an antenna mast. This system was developed collaboratively by Raytheon Company and Lockheed Martin Company in the United States.

Japan, particularly the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, has adopted the PATRIOT missile system for its air defence capabilities. Under licensing agreements, the manufacturing of PATRIOT missiles is carried out in Japan, with the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group serving as the primary contractor for production.

The Patriot missile system is designed to perform four major operational functions, each playing a crucial role in providing a comprehensive and effective air defence capability:

Communications: The system relies on advanced communication capabilities to facilitate the exchange of information among its various components, ensuring seamless coordination and response.

Command and Control: The command and control function involves the management and coordination of the entire system. This includes decision-making processes, target prioritization, and overall control of the system’s operations.

Radar Surveillance: Radar surveillance is a critical aspect of the Patriot system. The radar components are responsible for detecting and tracking incoming threats, such as enemy aircraft or missiles. This information is essential for the system to assess potential targets and respond accordingly.

Missile Guidance: Once a threat is identified, the missile guidance function comes into play. The system uses this function to guide the interceptor missiles toward their intended targets with precision, intercepting and neutralizing incoming threats.

By integrating these four key functions, the Patriot system creates a coordinated, secure, and mobile air defence system. This level of sophistication allows for a robust defence against a range of airborne threats, making it a valuable asset for countries, such as Japan, that have adopted this technology for their national defence.