Feb 7, 2014
Future of F-35 in Japan Unclear as Costs Mount
Two years after Japan agreed to buy F-35 to replace its F-4EJ Phantoms, the government has yet to give more than the vaguest hints about its future fighter replacement plans as the Defense Ministry struggles with a rising tide of costs and difficulties with the troubled stealth fighter program.
Following instructions of Prime Minister to recalibrate Japan’s defense posture to counter rising concerns, the MoD released its five-year Mid-Term Defense Plan and 10-year National Defense Program Outline in December, one year early. Yet the two documents are singularly unrevealing about Japan’s fighter plans.
While the midterm plan is explicit about a number of important new programs, it states only that Japan will buy 28 F-35s through Japanese fiscal 2018. The long-range plan states only that Japan is considering increasing its fighter inventory from 260 to 280.
The plan also called for the purchase of 17 Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, three Global Hawk surveillance drones and 52 amphibious vehicles to counter the increasingly expansionist Chinese Navy and deter threats to Japan’s long southeastern island chain.
The plan for 28 F-35s is in line with the MoD’s December 2011 agreement to eventually deploy 42 of the fighters, which should be completed by around 2021, with 38 to be assembled in Japan under a final assembly and checkout deal, according to internal MoD planning documents, said defense analyst Shinichi Kiyotani.
Under a June 2013 foreign military sales agreement with the US, Japan committed to purchase the first four F-35As at US $124 million each. The price was already at a premium to theoriginally agreed, due to the then-continuing development and testing difficulties the F-35 program was facing.
Since then, prices have continued to climb, especially with the yen’s devaluation. The price of the first two fighters to be purchased for fiscal 2013 climbed, and the cost for the next four for fiscal 2014 has risen.
Bearing in mind the rising costs of the F-35 program, the MoD is still figuring out what it can do about the long-term replacement of around 200 F-15J fighters and 90 F-2 fighters.