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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter / F-X Support Fighter

By November 2018 Japan was preparing to order another 100 F-35 stealth fighters to replace some aging F-15s. A single F-35 costs more than 10 billion yen ($90 million), meaning the additional order would exceed 1 trillion yen. Japan's government planned to approve the purchase when it adopts new National Defense Program Guidelines at a cabinet meeting in mid-December 2018. It will also include the F-35 order in its medium-term defense program, which covers fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2023. The government wants to obtain 42 F-35s as successors to its F-4s by fiscal 2024.

At present, Japan deploys about 200 F-15s, roughly half of which cannot be upgraded. The Defense Ministry wants to replace the planes that cannot be upgraded with the 100 F-35s, while enhancing and retaining the remaining F-15s.

The 42 fighters Japan originally bought were all F-35As, the conventional takeoff and landing variant. The additional 100 planes would include both the F-35A and F-35B, which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings. The new buy would include some 42 F-35B VSTOL aircraft for basing at sea. This would provide squadrons of 16 aircraft for each of the two Izumos, as well as another ten aircraft for shoreside training and maintenance float. To accommodate the F-35Bs, the government intends to revamp the Maritime Self-Defense Force's JS Izumo helicopter carrier to host the fighters. By some estimates, China's new CVA002 and CVN003 aircraft carriers might carry as many as 24 J-31 stealth fighters, along with several dozen other aircraft.

On 19 December 2011 the Japan Ministry of Defense announced its selection of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II as the Japan Air Self Defense Forces (JASDF) next generation fighter aircraft, following the F-X competitive bid process. The F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant (CTOL) was offered by the United States government with participation from Lockheed Martin. This variant will not enter American service prior to 2018 The initial contract will be for four jets in Japan Fiscal Year 2012, which begins April 1, 2012. A total of 42 aircraft [some reports had previously stated 48 aircraft] are part of the initial purchase.

The initial contract will be for four jets in Japan Fiscal Year 2012, which began April 1, 2012. "The government shall acquire 42 units of the F-35A after fiscal 2012 in order to replenish and to modernise the current fleet of fighters held by the Air Self-Defense Force", the Japanese government confirmed in a statement. The Japanese F-35 deal had an estimated value of over $4bn and saw the highly-advanced multirole fighter succeed where the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - both previously in the running to win the contract - had now failed.

Japan required significant a work-share for its commitment to buy the F-35. Although he details were initially unclear, it seemed probable that Japan would establish its own final assembly line, and would manufacture some components and subcomponents for its F-35s. Indded, Japan would receive its first four F-35As from Lockheeds Fort Worth factory, with the remaining 38 to be produced under licence by Mitsubishi at Nagoya. It seemd probable that Tokyo would seek to build more F-35As using this line.

As of 2014 the Japanese defense ministry was considering upgrading the F-15J fighters under its Mid-term Defense Program. Around 100 of the aircraft's radar systems are not able to be modified, and Tokyo may purchase additional F-35s to replace them. This will eventually result i in Japan to having at least 142 F-35 stealth fighters.

F-X Background

The F-X is a requirement for a new fighter initially slated to enter service early in the post-2010 decade. This might have involved license production at Mitsubishi, replacing F-2 production. Options include later model Boeing F-15s (F-15K equivalents, or better) or Boeing F/A-18E/Fs, Eurofighters, Lockheed Martin F-22s, and a new upgraded version of the F-2.

Japan received its first Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter briefing in 2004. By 2008 the Defense Ministry was having a hard time determining the next-generation mainstay fighter (FX) for the Air Self-Defense Force. Although the ASDF craved for the state-of-the-art stealth fighter F-22A, its procurement seemed difficult, as the U.S. Congress does not allow its exports for security reasons. While the F-35 and Europe's Eurofighter were rivals, they both lacked decisive factors. The protraction of coordination was inevitable. The FX is to replace some 90 F-4 fighters. The ministry planned to introduce about 50 FX fighter jets for two air squadrons. There are six candidate models: the United States' F-22A, F-35, F-15FX, and FA-18E/F, Europe's Eurofighter and France's Rafale.

The US Defense Department's decision in early 2009 to end placing orders for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet forced Japan's Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces to give up their plan to introduce the state-of-the-art stealth fighte. The scheduled procurement of the FX would be delayed further, having an impact on a review of the country's air defense strategy as a result. In addition to the F-22, the Defense Ministry was checking the performance of the F-15FX and the FA-18 of the United States; the F-35 of the United States, Britain and other countries; the Eurofighter of four European countries, including Britain and Germany; and the Rafale of France.

By 2009 Tokyo considered the F-35 the best candidate to replace F-4 fighters then used by the Air Self-Defense Force. It hoped to make its selection by the fall of 2010, but as of year's end no decision had been announced. As of early 2010 the government appeared likely to incorporate the plan to acquire the F-35 in new defense policy guidelines and the medium-term defense buildup plan to be adopted in December 2010. The new government decided in October 2009 to delay its adoption by one year to allow more time to reflect the policies of the Democratic Party of Japan and its coalition partners.

The purchase is part of a wider military build up in which the Defence Ministry has sought funds to purchase around 40 F-35 fighter jets which will become the future mainstay of the nation's air force. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, was projected to cost around $90 million (nine billion yen) and was being developed by the United States, with Britain and Australia as founding partners.

In December 2009 it was reported that Tokyo and Washington were contemplating Japanese participation in a multinational project to develop the F-35 stealth fighter. Tokyo's participation would be limited to developing components to be provided exclusively to the Air Self-Defense Force so as not to conflict with Japan's principles of banning exports of weapons and arms technology. Japan may rethink selecting the US-built F-35 as its new mainstay fighter, given the high cost of the aircraft. Obama administration officials told a congressional panel in March 2010 that the F-35 was likely to cost $95 million apiece, nearly double the initial estimate. In 2001, the F-35 was given a price tag of around $50 million, but the cost has risen to an estimated $80 million to $95 million.

Japanese had not previously been partners in the F-35 project. The Japanese were set to purchase the AV-8 Harriers in 1989, but they did not do so, and were initially not partners with the international consortium building the JSF. The British and USMC STOVL (short takeoff and vertical landing) version of the JSF could be of great interest to the Japanese for use on their new 16DDH and 22DDH carrier-like "helicopter destroyers", but the Japanese Defense Agency had not taken that position.

The most notable aspect of the F-X program is that it probably entailed returning to the low-risk, high-budget seen in pre-F-2 Japanese fighter programs, which involved license production of US designs. Before the F-2, for example, Mitsubishi built 199 Boeing F-15s at a unit cost of around $100 million. Before that, Mitsu-bishi built 125 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms.

Some elements in the JASDF favored acquisition of the F-22, the most expensive and capable choice. While the US would agree to limited industrial cooperation, there is no prospect of outright license production for this aircraft. If the F-22 were selected, Japanese industry's share of the procurement revenue would be rather limited. The loss of its fighter franchise would seriously impact Japanese aircraft industry, since it has historically been the backbone of its work.

Despite the setbacks on the military side, Japan's commercial aviation industry had made some wise partnership choices. The country's three major aviation companies - Kawasaki, Mitsubishi, and Fuji Heavy Industries - have a 21% share of Boeing's 777 airframe, and 35% of Boeing's 787 airframe. The first is well on the way becoming the second most successful widebody of all time (after the 747); while the later had the most successful commercial launch of any widebody to date.

It is also notable that F-X will not involve significant technology development work. The F-2 was designed to give Japanese industry a boost in platform design and integration, but this capability went nowhere. The next Japanese fighter will not provide support to a fighter design department. The Japanese military aircraft downturn speaks to the desirability of off-the-shelf purchases or workshares in programs with larger production volumes, rather than indigenous solutions.

The Japanese MOD was looking at F-X procurement not just from the perspective of replacing the aging F-4 squadrons, but also with a view to replacing Japan's F-15s and countering the growing multilayered China threat. This could lead to fewer resources for the F-X and more for other assets, such as submarines for instance, depending on Japan's assessment of the threat. Domestic industrial participation will also be a factor, as Japan's indigenous F-2 line will soon be shut down, leaving Japan with no domestic fighter production program. MOD's assessment as of 2010 was that, if the F-35 was selected, there would be no room for Japanese industrial participation. Moreover, MOD would also not be able to purchase indigenously produced missiles for the F-35.

The Eurofighter Typhoon consortium has aggressively courted Tokyo. The group promised to give extensive work to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. A few years ago, the notion of Japan buying a front-line combat aircraft from a non-United States supplier would havebeen laughable; but that is no longer the case.




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