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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

29 September 2015

Can ShinMaywa Handle a Third Customer?

It is only a matter of time before Tokyo sells a major military platform rather than just parts. With a wealth of experience in manufacturing armour, ships, submarines and helicopters, Japan's first export will probably be a search-and-rescue (SAR) amphibious aircraft, the US-2.

Japan and India have been discussing the sale of the amphibian since 2012. The platform's civilian SAR role allowed talks to progress even before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government revised the principles governing defence exports.

Since the change in policy, however, the government has stepped up efforts to market the US-2 alongside more traditional defence platforms such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' SORYU submarine and Kawasaki Heavy Industries' P-1 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). This has meant a lot more exposure for Japan's niche amphibious aircraft.

The aircraft is a joint product of Japan's defence industry giants. Mitsubishi contributes the outer sections of the wings and the rear sections of the engine nacelles, NIPPI builds the amphibian's special water-tight landing gear housings, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries supplies the cockpit. US-2's manufacter ShinMaywa is then responsible for assembling the parts around its special boat-like forward hull and supplying the aircraft to the Maritime Self-Defense Force.

ShinMaywa has supplied three production-standard copies since 2007 but a lack of capacity is choking the production line. The company can only produce two aircraft simultaneously, which increases the length of the production run. This complicates the conditions of supplying Japanese-assembled aircraft for export.

India is looking to buy somewhere between 10 and 20 US-2s — Tokyo and New Delhi are still negotiating the final number. India wants to manufacture the planes domestically but Japan is asking to build them at its existing factories. This would allow ShinMaywa to get the most out of its existing capital, but building the aircraft in Japan would either reduce the flow of planes to the Maritime Self-Defense Force or add a significant wait time to the Indian bid.

Indonesia has also expressed an interest in the aircraft, but with ShinMaywa's domestic orders and possible Indian orders, is ShinMaywa able to handle a third customer? In the meantime, the company is continuing to attend defence and aerospace exhibitions at the request of the Japanese government.