The government is considering operating F-35B fighter jets from about fiscal 2026, in an effort to utilize airports on remote islands and thereby improve the nation’s capability to defend the isles, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
Considered the most advanced stealth fighters, F-35Bs are currently operated by the U.S. military based in Japan.
The Japanese government is also eyeing the operation of the fighters on Izumo, the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest-class destroyer and which Tokyo is considering remodeling into an aircraft carrier, according to government sources.
The government has decided to introduce 42 F-35A fighter jets — which are capable of taking off and landing on ordinary runways — as a successor to aging F-4 fighters. The first F-35A was deployed at the Air Self-Defense Force’s Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture last month.
As for the F-35B, the government is planning to indicate the number of aircraft to be procured in the next Medium-Term Defense Program, which is to be compiled at the end of this year. It is also mulling including related expenses in the fiscal 2019 budget plan, with a view to starting the delivery of F-35Bs from around fiscal 2024, the sources said.
The F-35B is likely to be defined as a successor to the F-15, the ASDF’s main fighter jet. One plan is to introduce about 20 to 40 F-35Bs, which would correspond to one to two squadrons. Tokyo is also considering increasing the number of F-35As in the next midterm defense program, according to the sources.
The introduction of F-35Bs would facilitate the use of commercial airports on remote islands. (end of excerpt)
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