TOKYO -- Japan's government on Thursday cleared a domestically made missile component for export to the U.S. in the first application of new guidelines for defense equipment transfers.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and members of his National Security Council also approved joint research on missile technology with the U.K.
The move lets Mitsubishi Heavy Industries export seeker gyros used in Patriot surface-to-air missiles to the U.S., which will sell the completed weapons to Qatar.
The gyros form part of infrared seekers that guide the missiles to their targets. Mitsubishi Heavy manufactures the gyros and the missiles under a license agreement with U.S. defense contractor Raytheon.
In its assessment, the government expressed confidence in ally America's safeguards for handling of the component. Tokyo also approved the eventual transfer of missiles to pro-American Qatar, seeing a low risk of the arms being used in conflicts.
Separately, the research effort will study whether Mitsubishi Electric semiconductor technology could improve the accuracy of Meteor missiles for the F-35 fighter jet.
It will involve simulations pairing technology from Mitsubishi Electric and European missile developer MBDA but no actual transfer of equipment, according to the government. There are no plans at this point to segue to a development program.
Japan had already opened itself up to joining international weapons development programs even before Abe's government replaced long-standing arms trade restrictions with looser guidelines. But Tokyo decided to weigh the research proposal against the new criteria anyway because of the "extremely sensitive technology" involved, according to a senior Defense Ministry official. Any development program stemming from the research would need to be approved by the government separately.
The guidelines bar transferring weapons technology to nations in conflict. Qatar clears this standard. Yet the ministry has not ruled out the possibility of the U.S. exporting Patriot missiles containing the Japanese-made component to Israel, which is fighting Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Nor could Japan be sure that the F-35 missiles containing Japanese technology would never be fired in conflicts, given that 12 countries are planning to deploy the jets.