Japan, Britain and Italy are planning to hold a defense ministerial meeting in Tokyo next month, sources close to the matter said Monday, in which their joint development plan of a next-generation fighter jet is expected to be discussed.
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and his British and Italian counterparts, Ben Wallace and Guido Crosetto, are also likely to discuss cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, where China has been intensifying military activities, the sources said.
In December last year, the three countries' leaders agreed to jointly develop a state-of-the-art warplane by around 2035, as the global security environment has become more severe due largely to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
For Japan's part, the three-way project with the two NATO members is the first development of defense equipment with nations other than its security ally the United States.
The defense chiefs of Japan, Britain and Italy may also enter into discussions to explore the possibility of exporting the new fighter jet to other countries, the sources said.
To facilitate weapon exports in the future, the Japanese government said in its National Security Strategy, updated in December, that it will consider reviewing the nation's strict guidelines regarding exporting defense equipment to other countries.
The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been eager to amend, in April or later, the stringent rules that have long been maintained under Japan's pacifist Constitution, according to the sources.
On the sidelines of the envisaged defense ministerial gathering, the ministers are also arranging to visit Chiba, near Tokyo, to attend a large-scale defense equipment trade exhibition to be held for three days through March 17, the sources said.
Companies mainly responsible for the fighter jet project, such as Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Britain's BAE Systems plc, and Italy's Leonardo S.p.A., are set to join the event in Chiba, the sources added.
The newly developed warplane is certain to replace about 90 aging Japanese F-2 fighters, which will begin retiring in 2035, and around 240 Eurofighter jets of Britain and Italy, Japanese government officials said.
In December, the three nations' leaders also promised to build on their "long-standing defense relationship" while vowing to further strengthen their supply chains and industrial bases.
Japan, Britain, Italy to develop next-generation fighter jet by 2035