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Japan is considering buying up to 100 more F-35 fighters

In a February, 2017 file photo, Lt. Col. Nakano, Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-35A national representative pilot to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, sits in the cockpit of an F-35 on 944th Fighter Wing's ramp area as two JASDF maintainers hold a Japanese flag.

LOUIS VEGA JR./U.S. AIR FORCE

By JAPAN NEWS YOMIURI Published: November 28, 2018

TOKYO — The Japanese government is considering acquiring 80 to 100 additional state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighters for the Air Self-Defense Force, sources said.

Added to the current deployment plan, this would give the ASDF 120 to 140 F-35 fighters in total. The purchase of the extra fighters is apparently aimed at countering China's rapid expansion of air power.

The stealth functions of the F-35, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. of the United States, make it difficult to detect by enemy radar.

The government is planning to deploy 42 units of the F-35A model, which takes off and lands from conventional runways, to replace its F-4 fighters, which are due for replacement.

According to several government sources, the additional F-35 fighters would replace about half of the current fleet of about 200 F-15 fighters, whose functions would be difficult to enhance. The F-15 is currently the ASDF's primary fighter jet.

As F-35 fighters cost more than 10 billion yen (about $87,792,460) apiece and have greater capabilities than the F-15, the government may choose to eliminate one squadron of about 20 planes and eventually purchase only about 80 units, the sources said.

In the next Medium Term Defense Program for fiscal 2019-23, which is to be compiled by the government in December, the government initially intended to add about 20 F-35A units, but it is now likely to call for a higher figure. The overall plan for acquiring additional F-35A units is expected to be decided in December, in tandem with the release of the five-year defense program.

In addition to the F-35A, the government is also considering acquiring the F-35B model, which can take off from short runways and land vertically. These features could help strengthen the defense of remote islands.

The government is considering turning a Marine Self-Defense Force Izumo-class destroyer into an aircraft carrier that could handle F-35B takeoffs and landings. Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said at a press conference Tuesday that the government wants it "to be as multipurpose as possible," signaling a willingness to go ahead with turning the destroyer into an aircraft carrier.

The new National Defense Program Guidelines are expected to describe the course the government plans to take on remodeling the Izumo and acquiring F-35B fighters.
 

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