Japan eases arms export restrictions to send Patriot missiles to the United States

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Japan intends to ease restrictions on arms exports to allow dozens of domestically produced Patriot air defense missiles to be shipped to the United States, a move that would help Washington increase vital supplies to Ukraine.

Tokyo is also considering exporting 155mm artillery shells to the United Kingdom that it manufactures under license from BAE Systems, according to two people with direct knowledge of the discussions, a plan also indirectly aimed at helping Ukraine.

Arms exports will be allowed through an easing of Japan’s strict guidelines on arms sales, which the government plans to announce on Friday. This easing is part of a more proactive defense policy adopted by Japan after it increased military spending plans last year.

The first change to arms guidelines in nearly a decade would not allow Japan to export military equipment directly to Ukraine. Instead, it will enable the equipment to be exported to the country that provided the license under which it was manufactured. Under current rules, Tokyo can only export licensed components rather than entire systems.

Washington has been asking Japan for several months to allow exports of Patriot missiles made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries under license from U.S. defense contractors Lockheed Martin and RTX, formerly known as Raytheon Technologies, the people familiar with the discussions said. The exports would free up US stockpiles intended for the Indo-Pacific region to be sent to Ukraine instead.

The Patriot air defense system is one of the most advanced weapons Washington has so far provided to Kiev.

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The plans of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration come as the US Congress has repeatedly failed to approve a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine proposed by the White House. Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President, visited Washington this month in an attempt to gain more funding, but Republicans in Congress rejected it.

“Japan was a steadfast ally at the moment that mattered most to the United States,” one US government official said.

Tokyo has said it will acquire hundreds of US-made Tomahawk cruise missiles starting in the fiscal year starting in April 2025, a year ahead of schedule.

In 2014, Japan abolished its long-standing ban on arms exports under the pacifist constitution adopted after World War II. But remaining restrictions and a long absence from global markets mean the country is struggling to establish a meaningful arms trade.

Industry executives had hoped that a new joint development program for Japanese fighter jets with the United Kingdom and Italy would provide an opportunity for Tokyo to further ease export restrictions and give its defense companies more access to overseas markets.

But easing beyond approval of licensed equipment is opposed by Komeito, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s coalition partner, which draws support from Buddhist voters. The parties plan to continue discussions next year on a broader review of the rules that will be applied to the trilateral fighter aircraft program.

Because of the political sensitivity of any broader mitigation, US officials, including US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, prioritized obtaining an export permit for Patriot missiles. President Joe Biden raised the issue with Kishida at a trilateral summit with South Korea at Camp David in August, and during a meeting with the Japanese prime minister in San Francisco last month.

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