Japan on Monday fine-tuned the sale terms of at least 15 ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft for the Indian Navy, ahead of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s trip to India later this month.
Itsunori Onodera, Japan's defence minister on a four-day visit to India, met his Indian counterpart AK Antony to discuss the deepening of military ties and the aircraft’s sale. According to the ministry of defence officials, "The two also talked about the security scenarios relating to territorial disputes in the region, and regularising maritime cooperation following joint exercises last month."
Last May, during PM Manmohan Singh’s four-day visit to Tokyo, the two countries agreed on talks that would confirm plans for India to purchase the US-2, an aircraft developed in Japan for use by its Self-Defense Forces.
The deal marks a shift from Japan’s strict post-war policy of not supplying defense equipment to other countries. Japan imposed a ban on arms exports in 1967 as it sought to demonstrate its anti-war credentials. The ban began to come under pressure in 2011, when the Japanese government relaxed the rules allowing Japanese firms to take part in multinational weapon and military projects.
There are two key driving forces behind this fundamental shift in Japanese policy. One, the rise of China and, second, Japan’s desire to expand the market for its defense industry.
The two factor are linked: apart from India being a significant and growing defence market, Tokyo also finds it shares common cause with Delhi in the security realm.
The US-2 is a military aircraft, but it can be retrofitted for civilian use. Even if Japan sells the aircraft to India for civilian use only, India would have the option to rework the aircraft to restore its military purpose.
According to senior officials, "Japan has already signaled its interest in working with India in the Indian Ocean and the amphibious aircraft deal could facilitate that."
There has been a leap in India-Japan strategic ties through 2013. India recently rolled out the red carpet for Japanese Emperor Akihito, whose visit early December was hailed as a ‘historic milestone’.
Abe is due to visit India in January as the guest of honour on Republic Day.