Japan changed its laws regarding arms exports, allowing for the transfer of weapons, the Japanese Foreign Ministry announced on Dec. 22. The ministry added that it will send the U.S. Patriot missiles, paving the way for the U.S. to replenish its stocks while potentially sending Ukraine some of its own current supply.
The move represented a significant shift in Japan's pacifist foreign policy, which has long prohibited the international export of arms. The change in rules still does not allow for the export of weapons to countries currently at war, so Japan cannot send Patriot missiles directly to Ukraine.
As Russia continues to ramp up its onslaught of attacks against civilian infrastructure, Ukraine remains in desperate need of modern air defenses to thwart Russian airstrikes this winter. In October, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russia would likely attempt to destroy Ukraine's energy infrastructure.
Ukraine has seen success with its Patriot missiles, some of the most advanced air defense systems the country possesses.
Ukraine received its first Patriot systems in April 2023 and soon after proved their effectiveness by downing air-launched ballistic Kinzhal missiles, lauded by Moscow as "unstoppable hypersonic" weapons.
The U.S. would still need to obtain permission from the Japanese government before transferring the weapons abroad.
U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that Japan plans to send dozens of Patriot missiles to the U.S. as early as the beginning of 2024. The missiles cost millions of dollars each, and the producer, Lockheed Martin, currently makes only 550 annually.
"The impact of Japan’s shipments will depend on how many missiles the U.S. in turn provides to Ukraine," the WSJ said.
The decision to send Patriot missiles to the U.S. "helps us manage our inventory of Patriots, given Ukraine and the Middle East, with a little more flexibility and strategic deployment,” said Rahm Emanuel, U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Japan has committed more than $7 billion in aid to Ukraine, the majority of which is humanitarian. Some military aid has been provided, but it has been limited to non-lethal equipment due to the restrictions on weapons exports.