Japan is showing interest in a NATO missile-building consortium that would allow it to take part in its first multinational defense project.
The United States is pushing for such an effort, hoping it could pave the way for Japan to lead similar projects in Asia, according to Reuters.
The NATO consortium is overseeing the development of the the SeaSparrow missile and sharing the cost.
The missile, an advanced ship-borne weapon designed to destroy anti-ship sea-skimming missiles and attack aircraft, is made by US weapons firms Raytheon and General Dynamics.
In May, Japanese naval officers traveled to a NATO meeting in The Hague to learn more about the consortium, according to US sources cited by Reuters.
Two Japanese sources familiar with the initiative said discussions in Tokyo were at an early stage, although joining the consortium would dovetail with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s more muscular security agenda, which includes lifting last year a decades-old ban on arms exports.
The consortium, established in 1968 by four countries including the United States, is set to develop an upgraded version of the SeaSparrow in the coming years.
Having Japan on board would spread the project’s costs.
Washington also sees a role for Japan in leading multinational military industrial partnerships in Asia at a time when China’s military modernization and assertiveness is alarming many countries in the region, said the US source.
Such partnerships, which are rare in Asia, would create a network of security ties beyond formal military alliances that mostly involve Washington and its various regional allies.
In June, Abe agreed with Philippine President Benigno Aquino on an exchange of military technology and hardware after a similar initiative with Malaysia.
Australia is considering tapping Japan to build its next-generation submarines.
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