April 17, 2014 5:43 am JST

Japanese-made missile part set for takeoff to US

TOKYO -- Japan's government is expected to approve the sale of a domestically made missile component to the U.S., which would mark the first export of military equipment under new, looser rules.

     The part in question is a sensor that goes into Patriot surface-to-air missiles, specifically the PAC-2 generation. Its ability to ascertain the missiles' attitude and position is crucial for ensuring that they hit their targets.

     "There's almost no production of sensors for PAC-2s" in the U.S. now, said a Japanese defense ministry official.

     Raytheon, their American manufacturer, has shifted its focus to the newer PAC-3s. Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries produces the PAC-2 sensors for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces under a licensing agreement with the U.S. company.

     The U.S. government appears to want to continue to rely on the older missile design to counter fighter jets. Upon receiving a formal request from Washington, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his National Security Council would weigh whether to clear the sensor for export.

     PAC-2s were meant as an anti-aircraft defense and are unsuited for knocking out ballistic missiles, a task for which the subsequent generation was designed.

     For years, Japan banned arms exports under its "three principles" governing the practice, including transfers of military gear produced under licensing agreements like the one with Raytheon. Abe's government has replaced the ban with a new set of guidelines that allow exports that meet certain criteria, such as contributing to Japan's national security.