In the final week of February, US and Japanese military and civilian VIPs gathered at Misawa Air Base for a celebration held by the 3rd Air Wing of the Japan Air Self Defense Force to welcome its first F-35A fighter aircraft.
This was the second F-35A to roll off the new assembly line at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ facility in Nagoya. Japan’s Air Self Defense Force now operates six F-35As, with four assigned to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where training for JASDF pilots and maintenance crews is underway.
Japan has agreed to purchase 42 F-35As, and is now considering an additional 20, for a total of 62 aircraft. Japan is also considering the possible acquisition of the vertical/short takeoff version, or F-35B, for deployment aboard ships or on islands with airports that have short runways, along with the standard F-35A.
The JASDF is one of three Asian air forces flying F-35As, together with Australia and South Korea; Singapore is still exploring the option.
The F35 is the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken by the US, but it is quality over quantity: there are a mere 260 F-35s now in operation worldwide, with 180 in production. Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor.
Each F-35 aircraft costs over US$100 million. On March 2, Japanese defense minister Itsunori Onodera informed the country’s Diet that the F-35B is being studied for possible deployment aboard the Maritime Self-Defense Force carrier Izumo. Unmanned aircraft are also under consideration.
The end for the F-3?
Japan’s decision to proceed with the purchase of 20 additional F-35A warplanes greatly impacts the future of the F-3 fighter, which Japan has been developing for several years as a compliment to, if not a replacement for, its F-2 fighter aircraft.
The F-3 is a Japanese-built, experimental fifth-generation fighter technology demonstrator program variously named the X-2, the Shinshin and the ATD-X. The decision by the US to not sell Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor advanced stealth aircraft to Japan triggered this effort led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. A prototype X-2 flew in April 2016. (end of excerpt)
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