TOKYO, June 12 (UPI) -- Japanese government officials are reportedly in talks with international helicopter manufacturers over possible production of utility aircraft for its military.
Japan Times , quoting unidentified sources, identified the companies as Bell Helicopter, which is partnered with Fuji Heavy Industries; Airbus Helicopters, teamed with Kawasaki Heavy Industries; and AgustaWestland, whose products are marketed in Japan by Mitsui & Co.
According to the report, discussions are in the early stages and began recently. They represent a milestone in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's effort to foster a domestic military export industry and bring down Japan's defense procurement costs.
The talks also coincide with rising tensions with China over Beijing's increasingly assertive actions over territorial disputes with Japan and other Asian nations.
The helicopter procurement project is called UH-X. It is for the replacement of Japan's aging Huey helicopters, which Japan uses for transporting troops.
The newspaper said the project eyes helicopters that would not only replace the Hueys but could also be exported.
The decade-long project could be worth as much as $2 billion, sources said.