Japan considering additional F-35s for its air defense force as a counter to China

The Japanese government is weighing the option of purchasing about as many as 20 more F-35A stealth fighters for the Air Defense Force beginning as early as fiscal year 2020.

According to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbum, Tokyo will begin buying the additional planes during the next Medium Term Defense Program which runs from fiscal year 2019-2023, government sources said.

The additional fighters will be added to existing numbers of F-35As, giving Japan a fleet of about 60 aircraft when the purchases are complete, in the 2024-2027 timeframe.

A squadron usually consists of about 20 planes.

The Japanese paper reported further:

Such ASDF facilities as Nyutabaru Air Base in Miyazaki Prefecture and Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture are under consideration as possible bases to station the new fighters some time around fiscal 2024-27. Nyutabaru would help strengthen Japan’s defense posture in the nation’s southwestern area vis-a-vis China. The government plans to narrow down the list of possible deployment sites by the end of this year.

Based on its existing plan, the government is introducing the state-of-the-art stealth jets to replace the aging F-4 fighters, with a view to deploying 42 F-35As by fiscal 2024. The first F-35A was deployed at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture in January. Each new F-35A costs about ¥15.3 billion ($140 million), according to the fiscal 2019 budget requests.

The F-35A stealth fighter jet, categorized as the most up-to-date “fifth generation,” is utilized for a variety of objectives such as anti-air, anti-surface and anti-ship combat, and electronic warfare. The government plans to install JSM long-range cruise missiles — which have a range of about 500 kilometers — on the stealth jet to counter China’s long-range strike capability.

In addition, Tokyo is considering buying F-35Bs, the vertical take-off and landing version of the stealth jet, for possible deployment aboard its new Izumo-class helicopter “destroyers.”

Analysis: At present, China fields about 850 or so fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, compared to about 300+ for Japan. China has managed to double the number of aircraft since 2011, meaning procurement is occurring at a rapid pace. Of those planes, China is believed to have about a half-dozen fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighters, but a report in August claimed that Beijing is set to begin mass production of the plane after years of testing.

The J-20 is expected to provide China with air power projection capabilities it currently lacks. With a low radar signature, the J-20 would theoretically be capable of carrying out multiple roles within the air-to-air and air-to-ground combat domains. Japan obviously wants the capability of striking back against China in a similar capacity should war break out between them.

Japan has been steadily increasing its offensive military capabilities in recent years, and not always with widespread public support given the country’s post-World War II pacifist constitutional restrictions. However, as China has become more aggressive, many Japanese are seeing a need for additional quasi-offensive options, and thus agree with the direction Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is taking the country’s military. 

It’s not reasonable to believe that Japan will return to pre-World War II imperialism anymore than it is to believe that something like the Nazi Party will rise again in Germany. What Abe’s trying to do is to be prudent with his country’s national security within the confines of the law and the constitution. He is walking a fine line and may even at times be viewed as crossing it, but he isn’t doing so to revive the empire. He sees trouble with his giant neighbor over the horizon and he’s doing what he can to deter it. More F-35s will help.



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