The Japanese cabinet will loosen the country’s strict defence export rules to accommodate international sales of the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) to be developed with Italy and the UK.

The government of prime minister Fumio Kishida approved updated defence guidelines on 25 March after assuaging concerns raised by the pacifist-leaning Komeito party, its junior partner in the country’s coalition government.

GCAP pair over Tokyo

Source: BAE Systems

GCAP programe is key to the future of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the country’s aerospace industry

Under the updated rules, the export of fighters to third countries is allowed but they suggest a robust process must be in place to vet buyers. Moreover, buyers cannot be engaged in an active conflict, and cabinet approval is required for each sale.

Tokyo has long shied away from defence exports owing to its pacifist constitution, although it has somewhat relaxed rules in recent years. Over the last decade, the country has cautiously promoted defence products such as the Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft and the Shinmaywa US-2 amphibian.

Securing international customers for GCAP is seen as critical for reducing programme costs, and London and Rome have pressed this point on Tokyo.

As Tokyo eyes China’s massive arms build-up, GCAP is critical to the future of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, as it will replace the nation’s fleet of ageing Mitsubishi F-2 fighters in the 2030s. Prior to joining the GCAP effort, Tokyo had plans to develop its on fighter, known as the ‘Future Fighter’ or ‘F-3’.

GCAP is equally vital to Japanese industry, with major corporations such as Mitsubishi and IHI playing a role in the effort.