Britain and Japan are to take further steps to broaden their defense and security cooperation, including investigating the development of an existing air-to-air missile and joint combat jet exercise, senior UK ministers announced during a visit to Tokyo on Jan. 8.

"Japan is our closest security partner in Asia and I want to significantly deepen defense cooperation between our two nations" UK Defence Secretary Micheal Fallon said in a statement released to coincide with the visit.

Fallon listed defense equipment cooperation, joint exercises, reciprocal access to military bases and military personnel exchanges among the areas the British want to see deeper cooperation on.

The defence secretary was in Tokyo alongside British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond for meetings with their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani. Hammond also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In a joint statement released at the end of the visit, the two sides said they were taking forward a project known as the Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) to a second feasibility stage, having successfully concluded a first phase of work.

An MoD spokesman said no details were available on the missile program.

It has been widely reported though that the two sides are looking at a development of MBDA's new ramjet-powered Meteor beyond a visual range missile built for British, French, Swedish and other air forces.

New advanced, electronically scanned seeker technology involving Mitsubishi Electric is one possible development, according to the reports.

Japan is purchasing the Lockheed Martin F-35 for its future combat air requirements and is looking for a new generation beyond a visual range air-to-air weapon capable of fitting in the aircraft's internal weapons bay — which the Meteor does. Aside from the possible long-term missile development, the joint statement said progress was being made on other possible defense equipment programs.

A chemical and biological protection technology cooperative research project is already underway, and the statement confirmed the two sides would start a new joint study on personnel vulnerability evaluation.

On the military front, the two sides said they would continue to develop a range of initiatives, including joint exercises on mine sweeping in the Arabian Gulf and potential cooperation in improving amphibious capabilities and counter-IED capabilities. The British said they are considering sending Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets to Japan later this year for an exercise and were looking at other exercise possibilities.

It was also confirmed the two sides will be conducting a joint research project this year involving military cyber analysts. Joint cyber exercises are also on the agenda.

The meeting comes at a time of rising tensions in the region triggered by Chinese island building strategy in the South China Sea and the North Korean announcement on Jan. 6 that it had tested a hydrogen bomb for the first time.

The Japanese also have a growing territorial dispute with the Chinese over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Japan was described in last November's British Government strategic defence and security review (SDSR) as London's closet security partner in Asia.

The review said Britain would considerably strengthen defense, political and diplomatic cooperation as Tokyo takes an increasingly global outlook on security issues.

Recent years has seen Japan ease restrictions on the ability of Japanese armed forces to operate overseas and a ban on the export of defense equipment has also been partially lifted.

In December, the Abe government announced a significant increase in its defense spending.

The result of that easing of export restrictions saw Kawaski's P-1 maritime patrol jet become a contender for Britain's maritime patrol aircraft requirement before the UK government decided to acquire Boeing P-8s without holding a competition.

In the run up to the decision, taken as part of the defense review, industry executives said Treasury ministers were interested in the P-1 as it generated far greater general trade opportunities for Britain than the purchase of the P-8.

The move toward closer military ties first included the signing of a defense equipment cooperation framework and an information security agreement in mid-2013. That was followed by a defense and foreign ministers meeting in London early last year.

However, Japan's drive for collaborative partners is not limited to the British. France and India have also signed cooperation pacts in the last 12 months and the US has been a long-time partner across a range of programs.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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