As Japan seeks to become an exporter of military aircraft, the government is careful to stress that its equipment should be used only for peaceful missions.

At the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue here June 1-3, Shu Watanabe, Japan’s senior vice minister of defense, pitched the ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft, which is designed for search-and-rescue (SAR) work. “The US-2 plays an important role in rescue operations in Japan. I believe the aircraft could do much to improve and help with maritime surveillance and disaster relief efforts in the Asia-Pacific region,” he says.

He cited the aircraft’s range, maximum takeoff weight and the fact that the US-2 can land in rough seas with 3-meter-high waves.

A senior Japanese defense official using an international conference as a platform to promote export sales of Japanese military aircraft is a major departure from the past. Japan’s government and defense industry were previously forbidden from exporting military aircraft. But the government eased the “three principles” policy in December, paving the way for exports and for Japan to jointly develop new products with foreign firms.

Japan changed its stance after realizing that local industry could never achieve economies of scale and lower production costs if it was restricted solely to the Japanese market. Moreover, as programs such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter made clear, international joint development of military aircraft is the growing trend.

Watanabe told Aviation Week on the sidelines of the conference that the previous policy was too restrictive. For example, there were cases where Japan had land vehicles used in overseas peacekeeping missions that it was unable to sell because guns could be mounted on them. Watanabe is quick to stress that Japan will only be selling military equipment that can be employed for peaceful purposes.

Even prior to the easing of the “three principles” policy, Watanabe notes that Japan could export the US-2 — a civil version can perform firefighting missions, for example. The Japanese navy has been operating the US-2 since 2008 and has five in service, but no versions have been exported, he points out. “I believe some countries such as Brunei and Indonesia have shown interest in the US-2, but so far we have not been able to reach the stage of sales.”

The next step for government and industry will be to set up a framework to support overseas sales. When asked about the type of arrangement that would be used to sell the US-2 and other military aircraft, Watanabe says: “I think it would be a commercial deal,” but adds that in the case of the US-2, there may be involvement by “defense counterparts.”

As for the Kawasaki C-2 military transport and P-1 maritime surveillance aircraft, Watanabe says: “We don’t have any plans for that at the moment.” The C-2 and P-1 are still in development and undergoing flight tests. The manufacturer has made it clear that it wants to sell the C-2 and P-1 overseas if a country shows interest. It also has plans for a commercial cargo variant of the C-2, with export sales specifically in mind.

Japan also has developed some unique technology and is interested in jointly developing military equipment with other countries, he says.