Japan and Italy are rapidly expanding their defense and security ties, with joint fighter programs, navy port calls, and information exchanges in F-35B operations taking center stage. Both countries are intensifying their engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, aiming to counterbalance China’s growing military ambitions and ensure regional stability.
Growing Military Cooperation
The recent weeks have witnessed a remarkable pace of bilateral military engagement between Italy and Japan. Adm. Ryo Sakai, Chief of Staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, announced that both countries can now exchange vital information on the operation of the F-35B fighter aircraft, which they are acquiring. Italy and Japan are procuring variants of the advanced F-35 aircraft, with Italy set to deploy 60 F-35As and 30 F-35Bs, and Japan planning to acquire up to 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs.
As part of Italy’s increased military presence in the Indo-Pacific, the patrol vessel ITS Morosini recently made a port call at Yokosuka naval base. This visit marked the first time an Italian warship has visited Japan in over two decades. Italy is also planning to send its upgraded aircraft carrier, the ITS Cavour, on a tour of the Indo-Pacific in the near future.
A Strategic Partnership
The deepening defense ties between Japan and Italy come in the wake of their decision to elevate bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership.” This designation includes a consultation mechanism on foreign policy and defense issues. Italy, a NATO and G7 member, emphasizes the inseparable nature of Europe’s security from that of the Indo-Pacific, echoing Japan’s concerns over North Korea and China’s military capabilities.
Japan has been actively expanding its network of international defense partners, particularly in Europe and within NATO. The collaboration between Tokyo and Rome was further highlighted during the visit of Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto to Tokyo, where he pledged to enhance defense cooperation in various areas, including cyber defense, training, and joint exercises. The visit also involved a trilateral meeting with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to discuss the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP).
Joint Defense Technology Initiatives
The GCAP, a three-way project between Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom, aims to develop a next-generation combat aircraft. Scheduled for completion by 2035, the program intends to replace aging fighter jets operated by the Air Self-Defense Force in Japan, as well as Eurofighters in Britain and Italy. This collaboration marks Japan’s first major defense cooperation outside of the United States. By sharing costs and expertise, the partner countries aim to reduce production expenses while expanding defense technology relations.
Japan’s partnership with Italy holds the potential for significant advancements in defense technology exchange and joint ventures. Italian companies bring valuable experience in defense and aerospace technologies, as well as existing collaborations with other European firms. This appeals to Japan, as it seeks to diversify its defense technology relationships and access European defense technologies.
While analysts suggest that the partnership between Japan and Italy may not reach the same level as Japan’s relationship with the United Kingdom, the early milestones achieved will serve as important precedents for future collaboration. The deepening defense exchanges, joint exercises, and joint defense technology initiatives indicate a positive trajectory in Japan-Italy defense ties, which contribute to regional stability in the Indo-Pacific.