Monday, November 29, 2004

Firm eyes sale of Japanese military plane abroad

Anticipating a shift in government policy on arms
exports, a company is gearing up to sell to overseas
buyers aircraft used solely by the Self-Defense Forces,
according to sources to the Asahi shimbun.

ShinMaywa Industries Ltd. has been supplying the
Maritime SDF with its US-1A short-takeoff-and-landing
amphibian plane since 1974.

An upgraded version of the search-and-rescue aircraft,
the US-1A Kai, has drawn interest from overseas for its
potential to be refitted to fight wildfires.

It is not the first time.

Controversy erupted in the 1970s over whether the plane
could be exported to the United States. Opposition
parties then raised questions in the Diet about the
nature of the military aircraft, claiming it could not
be exported under the government ban on weapons export.

The government ruled in 1975 that since the US-1A would
not be used directly in combat, it was exempt from the
ban. ShinMaywa decided at the time, however, not to
export the aircraft.

But times have changed.

The government's recent plans to ease the arms-export
ban for joint U.S.-Japan missile defense and weapons
production has apparently set the stage for ShinMaywa to
reconsider selling the planes overseas.

It would be the first time a domestic aircraft used by
the SDF was sold abroad.

The MSDF currently maintains seven US-1A aircraft at its
Iwakuni base. The planes are not armed.

The upgraded US-1A Kai will eventually take over the
search-and-rescue roles of its predecessor for the MSDF.

The improved version will have a higher flying altitude,
greater speed and longer flying distance. Development of
the US-1A Kai began in 1996. Its first prototype was
delivered to the Defense Agency in March.

ShinMaywa officials said the fuel tank on the US-1A Kai
can be modified to allow the aircraft to scoop up to 15
tons of water from a lake or ocean to drop on fires.

The company has received inquiries from European
nations, such as France and Greece, as well as the
United States, its officials said.

A model was displayed at Britain's Farnborough Air Show
in July.

ShinMaywa has begun discussions with the Ministry of
Land, Infrastructure and Transport to get the documents
needed to allow private-sector sales.

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