The Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR) – Europe’s defence programme watchdog – welcomed Japan’s inclusion in the Eurodrone programme as an ‘observer state’ for the first time.

In Berlin, on 14 March 2024, OCCAR hosted Japanese Embassy and Ministry of Defence officials, within the Acquisition, Technology and Logistic Agency, to meet representatives from participating member states – France, Germany, Italy and Spain – as well as the prime contractor, Airbus Defence and Space.

Japan initially expressed interest in the Eurodrone programme in September last year, whereupon the OCCAR director Joachim Sucker delivered a Letter of Approval confirming Japan’s observer status two months later.

‘Observer status’ is granted to non-member states that want to be involved in the programmes activities that OCCAR manages. Other observer states include Australia in the Boxer infantry fighting vehicle project, for which it has ordered 211 reconnaissance units as part of its Army modernisation, and Brazil, which obtained observer status for the Logistic Support Ship programme in 2016.

This is a unique way to enable the exportability of European defence systems during development. US military systems have flooded into the EU recently, which complicates the EU’s own defence market attractiveness. In response, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, released the Union’s first ever Defence Industrial Strategy in which it hopes to boost the continent’s market competitiveness.

Until now, the world has relied on US-manufactured drones. Japan currently operates one of Northrop Grumman‘s high altitude long endurance uncrewed aerial vehicles, the RQ-4B Global Hawk, procured in 2022, according to GlobalData intelligence.

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Japan’s first participation in the Eurodrone programme comes just after the programme’s first board meeting in early March. Notably, there may be concerns that particpating nations may seek to alter the design of the Eurodrone uncrewed aerial system as the manufacturing phase is set to begin, which may lead to enduring delays down the line.

This concern stems from the fact that there has been no activity in the programme since 2020, when the global contract was formalised. A lot has happened since then – particularly during the war in Ukraine – which may have member states re-thinking their design configurations.

During the meeting, Japan’s delegation expressed its interest in the programme and in potential future collaborations with OCCAR, which will raise the value of a wakening European defence market after a sleepy two decades of complacency.