(Bloomberg) -- The US opened a new forum with Japan to boost defense industry ties, with Tokyo expanding its role to help its sole ally as Washington faces strains in supplying weapons to Ukraine and keeping pace with China’s military expansion.

Defense contractors from both countries met at the first gathering of the Defense Industrial Cooperation Acquisition and Sustainment Forum, or DICAS that started Sunday in Japan. The two sides will eventually discuss cooperating on repairs of US naval ships and aircraft, as well as missile production and supply chains, US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel told reporters in Tokyo. 

“If you take the repair and maintenance and have an ally help you, that means America’s skills can be concentrated on the most important thing, which is building something totally new to stay competitive with China,” Emanuel said.

The US’s own procurement process has suffered delays, with delivery of two new attack submarines, for example, running as much as two years late. The country is also racing to revive production of basic artillery for Ukraine. 

DICAS is among a list of initiatives that President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced at a summit in April in Washington to boost their defense and intelligence cooperation. 

Facing an assertive China and North Korea’s missile threats, Japan is increasing its defense spending to about 2% of its economic output, which is expected to benefit defense contractors at home. 

Japan, where pacifist sentiment has remained strong since the country’s World War II defeat, has been gradually easing its virtual ban on arms exports. 

In December, it decided to allow sales of weapons produced under license back to the country of origin, enabling Japan to export Patriot missiles to the US. This helped widen the pool of weapons the US has to bolster Ukraine’s air defense systems.

In the same month, Japan signed a treaty with the UK and Italy to develop a fighter jet known as the Global Combat Air Program. 

(Updates from first paragraph with remarks from US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel.)

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