Japan formally announced today the selection of the F-35 for its future F-X fighter. Tokyo will receive 42 F-35 Lightning II multirole stealth fighters, to be built by Lockheed Martin, replacing the aging fleet of F-4s, F-2s, and F-15s flying with the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF). It is expected a significant part of the aircraft assembly will be done in Japan, with the country’s leading aerospace industries Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and IHI Corporation having a major role in the production of the aircraft and its engine.Lockheed martin has indicated to offer significant work share to local subcontractors. Japan has considered three options for its F-X program – the Eurofighter Typhoon, an enhanced version of the Boeing F/A-18E/F and the F-35A.
The government decision to acquire and field a fifth-generation stealth fighter as soon as possible reflects Japan’s leadership strategy to counter to the fifth-generation fighters being developed in China and Russia while deterring the potential threat from unstable North Korea. Japan’s decision may prove to be a deciding factor in South Korea’s selection of its next air-superiority aircraft, with the F-35 becoming a more viable and much stronger contender for the South Korean selection of 60 fighters under the F-X phase 3. Japan has considered three options for its F-X program – the Eurofighter Typhoon, an enhanced version of the Boeing F/A-18E/F and the F-35A (JSF – Joint Strike Fighter).
Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper is reporting that Japan will prepare a budget that will include the purchase of four aircraft in 2012 with deliveries tentatively scheduled to begin in 2016. Lockheed Martin confirmed it expects such contract within Japan’s fiscal year 2012 beginning April 2012. The total cost of the acquisition could add up to as much as $8 billion. Although Japan is currently a major air power in the Pacific with some 362 fighters, the aircraft now in operation are suffering from age, overwork, and maintenance challenges. Japanese authorities have been seeking a viable replacement for several years.
The F-35 is one of the most advanced fifth-generation combat aircraft in the world and is one of the most expensive. The Japanese government has been shaken by the appearance of a Chinese aircraft carrier this year, the unveiling of the Chinese J20 stealth fighter, and by an increase in the frequency of Chinese and Russian intrusions into Japanese air space. The J20 fighter is widely considered to be a realistic challenger to US air superiority fighters now operating in the Pacific. A major F-35 purchase by Japan will be a major boost for Lockheed Martin and is likely to influence other Pacific nations to consider the F-35 as the best buy available. South Korea is also seeking a replacement for an aging fleet of air defense aircraft.