| TOKYO, July 3
TOKYO, July 3 Japan's Mitsubishi Electric
has agreed to take the first step towards a partnership
with European missile maker MBDA to develop a medium-range
air-to-air missile for the F-35 stealth fighter, two people with
knowledge of the matter said.
The preliminary deal marks an extension of Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe's bid to launch Japan's military suppliers into the
global arms market through international tie-ups, and thereby
bring down costs for Japan's defence procurement.
If successful, it would represent the first time
Japanese-built components had been used on a missile sold
overseas, one of a string of potential international arms deals
to emerge since Abe's government moved in April to end a more
than four decade-old ban on military exports.
The value of the missile-development deal remains unclear.
Mitsubishi Electric has agreed to start a feasibility study, one
of the people said.
Mitsubishi Electric, better known for making refrigerators
and vacuum cleaners, is the prime supplier of air-to-air
missiles to Japan's Self Defence Forces, including a
medium-range model, the AAM-4, used on its F-15 fighters and
locally designed F-2 jets. It is also a leading supplier of
satellites to the Japanese government.
MBDA is a pan-European company formed more than a decade ago
from the missile units of BAE Systems, Airbus
A spokeswoman for Mitsubishi Electric declined to comment.
MBDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
JOINT RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
MBDA's armoury includes the Meteor air-to-air missiles for
the Eurofighter. Britain has considered a modified version of
that missile as a candidate for the F-35s the Royal Air Force
and Royal Navy plan to buy form Lockheed Martin Corp.
Japan has so far ordered 42 F-35 fighters, which it plans to
deploy in 2017. Global orders for the F-35 are expected to
exceed 3,000, with Italy, Turkey, Canada and Australia among the
U.S. allies planning to purchase the plane.
The proposed missile deal would be the first major project
resulting from a pact signed by Japan and Britain in July last
year that created a legal framework for the two countries to do
joint research and development on defence equipment. A second
agreement committed the countries to guard classified
information exchanged in that work.
To manage cooperation between Mitsubishi Electric and MBDA,
and guide future projects, a steering committee of Japanese and
British officials will meet for the first time during the
week-long Farnborough Air Show, which begins on July 14,
according to the sources.
Japan is also discussing a similar co-development accord
with France and has committed to concluding an agreement with
The rush into international partnerships has become a plank
of Abe's military industrial policy.
Including Mitsubishi Electric's partnership with MBDA, Japan
is involved in, or considering, five projects with other nations
to design weapons systems that could be used both in Japan and
At the centre of those projects is Mitsubishi Heavy
Industries (MHI), which built the World War Two-era
Zero fighter plane. It is co-developing a missile with Raytheon
designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in space.
Mitsubishi Heavy and Mitsubishi Electric are separate
companies, but share a common origin as part of an industrial
conglomerate broken up by the United States after Japan's defeat
In January, sources told Reuters that Mitsubishi Heavy was
in talks to supply rear fuselage parts for the F-35 to Britain's
More recently, Japan has moved to accelerate talks with
Australia that could lead to a deal to supply it with a
multi-billion dollar fleet of stealth submarines. Mitsubishi
Heavy and Kawasaki Heavy Industries build subs for
Japan's military is also seeking bids from local and foreign
firms for a new transport helicopter that could be exported
overseas in a test case of how it will use sales of equipment
abroad to bring down procurement costs at home.
Bidders for that project include Kawasaki Heavy partnered
with Airbus's helicopter unit, Fuji Heavy Industries, the maker
of Subaru cars with Bell Helicopter, a unit of industrial
conglomerate Textron, and Japanese trading company
Mitsui & Co joined with AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of
Abe's government is looking to lower procurement costs for
Japan's military, in part by giving arms suppliers the ability
to sell equipment overseas. Because of the limits imposed by its
build-at-home for use-at-home military sourcing, Japan has paid
two or three times more than other governments for similar
military equipment, analysts have said.
Exports would enable Japanese arms makers to spread their
costs over a bigger production base, making them more cost
At the same time, Abe moved this week to end a ban that has
kept Japan's military from fighting abroad since 1945.
The change, the most dramatic policy shift since Japan set
up its post-war armed forces 60 years ago, will widen Japan's
military options by ending the ban on exercising "collective
self-defence", or aiding a friendly country under attack.
(Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Alex Richardson)