Japan's Consumer Giants Tapped For the Military Industry
Japan Looks To Industry Behemoths For Defense
Japan's most renowned brands,celebrated for their contributions to the world of consumer electronics, vehicles, and household appliances, also maintain an often-overlooked role in the production of military equipment. Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Subaru, and Daikin, names associated with televisions, cars, and air conditioning units, have side businesses producing everything from fighter jets to military-grade batteries.
The Japanese government, recognizing the potential within these industrial behemoths, has been pushing for an increase in the production of military hardware. However, this initiative has met with a lukewarm reception, as revealed in a recent report by Reuters.
Historically, Japan's defense companies have faced challenges in profiting from their military endeavors. A ban on arms exports, only lifted in 2014, has resulted in the domestic self-defense forces being the sole buyers of these weapons. Analyst Tetsuo Kotani of the Japan Institute for International Affairs points to this lack of market diversification as a barrier to profitability. As a result, over 100 Japanese companies have withdrawn from the defense sector in the last 20 years, according to financial analyst firm Nikkei.
To combat this issue and bolster supply chain resiliency, the Japanese government has initiated subsidies for struggling defense companies. By doing so, they aim to maintain indigenous defense build-up capabilities. A significant milestone in this direction was the joint announcement by Japan, Italy, and Britain of a new fighter jet program, Tempest, involving Mitsubishi.
Aligning with international partners, Tokyo also recently introduced guidelines to standardize equipment with U.S. and European norms. Collaboration with the U.S. has long been a pillar of Japan's defense strategy.
Yet, retired U.S. Marine Colonel Grant Newsham highlights the absence of coordinated thinking in determining the hardware, resources, and capabilities needed for a genuine joint defense effort with America. He points out that Japan lacks a joint operational headquarters for its air, sea, and ground forces and emphasizes the urgent need for coordinated planning with the U.S.
While the push for military expansion aligns with an increase in public support for enhancing self-defense forces, Japanese industrial giants tread cautiously. They are likely concerned about the potential impact on their consumer brand image should they venture deeper into military production.
Masahiko Arai, the head of Mitsubishi Electric's defense systems division, expressed hope that contributing to Japan's safety and security would be beneficial. However, his concerns over the future of Japan's five-year military buildup reflect a broader industry apprehension.