TOKYO - Japanese military planners are considering purchasing at least 20 additional F-35A stealth fighters directly from American group Lockheed Martin Corp rather than assembling them locally.
“In view of budgets and production schedules, a new acquisition of around 25 planes is appropriate,” sources with knowledge of the plan were quoted by Reuters as saying.
The sources, who asked not to be identified, told the news agency that purchasing complete aircraft from the US — at about $100 million each — will save Japan about $30 million per airframe.
This will be an additional purchase to an earlier order for 42 of the fighters, most of which are being constructed at a “final assembly and check out” plant in Japan.
The plant, operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, is one of only two such factories outside the US . A Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet is pictured at the International Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France, on June 21, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The Japanese military is also considering to buy F-35Bs, the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) version of the fighters.
“We have not yet made any plan and we are evaluating what fighter aircraft we need,” said Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Tuesday. The ministry will release two defense reviews by the end of the year, which will outline Japan’s security goals and military procurement plans for the five years beginning in April 2019.
Japan will reportedly replace its aging F-4 Phantom fighters by the first F-35s. The next batch will also allow Tokyo to retire some of its aging 200 F-15s.
The US-made F-35As, however, are said to have fundamental unresolved flaws, including issues in the final version of key software known as 3F, restrictions on aerial refueling, and “system-related deficiencies” that mar the dropping of air-to-ground weapons to support ground troops, according to the Pentagon testing office’s annual report to Congress.
Japan’s military also plans to construct its own stealth fighter, dubbed the F-3. The country, however, will probably have to find foreign partners to share the expense due to the high cost of military aircraft development.