In an unprecedented move for the Japanese industry, Mitsubishi Electric has secured a contract with the Australian Defence Department, marking the maiden venture of a Japanese firm into a defence agreement with an overseas government.
The collaboration between the Australian branch of Mitsubishi Electric and Australia’s armed forces will focus on fusing laser technologies. This initiative is designed to amplify surveillance abilities in fighter aircraft and ground vehicles. However, the details surrounding the duration and financial scope of the project remain undisclosed.
Traditionally, Japanese defence manufacturers have collaborated on international equipment developments through the channel of Japan’s Defence Ministry. Until now, the domestic market has been the sole patron for Japan’s defence industry, which grapples with the challenges of hefty investments in cutting-edge technology and skilled workforce.
A recent white paper from the Defence Ministry underscored concerns about firms retreating from the sector, highlighting a potential weakening in the domestic production ecosystem. Mitsubishi Electric’s overseas contract could pave the way for other Japanese firms, broadening their customer reach and facilitating a quicker return on their investments.
A longstanding player in the defence sector since the 1960s, Mitsubishi Electric boasts expertise in areas like lasers and missile guidance systems. The firm is amplifying its defence-centric operations, mirroring the uptick in Japan’s defence outlay. This was further reflected in May when they revealed plans to augment their workforce in the defence and aerospace sectors by a thousand employees.
Celebrating the contract, the Defence Ministry hailed it as emblematic of the synergy between Japan and Australia in the realms of defence and technology. They further endorsed sustained collaboration between public and private entities in the defence arena.
In a bid to bolster defence partnerships, Tokyo contemplates the introduction of a system for security clearances, enabling the vetting of individuals accessing sensitive data. This system, already present in other G7 nations, has been a missing component in Japan, restricting the global ambitions of some local defence enterprises.
Concurrently, Australia is bolstering its defence stature, especially considering its relations with China. Beijing’s endeavours to strengthen its footprint in Pacific nations, historically aligned with Australia, is evident through accords like the one with the Solomon Islands in 2022.
Facilitating enhanced defence collaboration, the Reciprocal Access Agreement between Japan and Australia was activated in August, easing the protocols for military operations in each other’s territories. This accord was operationalized during a joint military exercise in Australia soon after.
In a meeting in Tokyo, Japanese Defence Minister, Minoru Kihara, and his Australian counterpart, Richard Marles, underscored the value of defence and technology alliances. The duo jointly hailed the news about Mitsubishi Electric’s contract.
Earlier this year, Australia publicized its intentions to deploy nuclear submarines as part of the AUKUS pact with the UK and the US. In their strategic defence blueprint from April, Australia spotlighted the essence of deepening ties and concrete cooperation, especially with partners like Japan and India, members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
Interestingly, in 2016, Japan made an unsuccessful bid to sell Australia its Soryu submarine, crafted by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The Australian administration then prioritized local job creation and technological transfers, areas where Japan’s offer fell short, eventually giving way to a French firm.