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F-35 For Japan Faces Uncertain Future

Long-Range Defense Plans Reveal Little About Actual Acquisition

Japan's defense forces are still flying 1960's-era F-4J Kai Phantoms, and two years ago, the Japanese government said it would buy F-35 fighters to modernize their air defenses. But two documents recently released by the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) outlining mid- and long-range defense plans make little mention of acquisition of the aircraft.

A five-year Mid-Term Defense Plan specifies the purchase of 28 F-35s through fiscal year 2018, but the 10-year document says only that the county will boost its fighter inventory by 20 aircraft, from 260 to 280, according to a story appearing in Defense News.

In 2011, the Japanese MoD agreed to eventually deploy 42 of the aircraft, which would seem to be in agreement with the shorter-term acquisition of 28 airplanes. Thirty-eight of those would be assembled in Japan, according to the report. But the vague reference to increasing its fighter inventory by 20 airplanes in the long-term outlook raises doubts about Japan's ability to come up with the money to purchase the aircraft.

The midterm document also indicates that Japan will purchase 17 Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey aircraft, three Global Hawk UAVs, and other military hardware.

Among the issues is the rising cost of the airplane. The Japanese MoD is also concerned about the eventual replacement of some 200 F-15J and 90 F-2 fighters. Defense analyst Shinichi Kiyotani told Defense News that one reason for the vague language on fighter replacement is that the MoD truly does not know if it can afford more F-35s to replace the F-15s.

(F-35 pictured in file photo)

FMI: www.mod.go.jp/e


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