Home » Weapons » Arms Trade » Japan Set to Buy F-35s

Japan Set to Buy F-35s

by John Reed on December 13, 2011

Here’s some very good news for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Japan is signalling that it may become the next country to sign up to buy the plane.

The island nation had been considering replacing its ancient fleet of F-4 Phantoms and newer F-15s with the Eurofighter Typhoon, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and finally the F-35. According to news reports from Japan, Tokyo is set to choose the F-35 this week.

Per Rueters:

Japan will likely pick Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet as its next frontline fighter, media reported on Tuesday, which may help end six decades of isolation for the country’s defense contractors and bolster its military against growing Chinese might.

The government will choose between two U.S. models — the F-35 and the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet — and Europe’s four-nation Eurofighter Typhoon, at a meeting of the national security council on Friday, the Nikkeibusiness daily said.

The date of the planned meeting could not be confirmed with government officials and chief cabinet spokesman Osamu Fujimura said no decision had been made. The Pentagon’s F-35 program office also said it had not received any word from Japan.

Analysts say the purchase is potentially worth $8 billion.

This move makes sense given the United States’ recent decision to pivot its military and diplomatic attention to the far east.  Remember, Japan, one of the U.S.’ most important allies, is concerned about China’s rapidly growing military. Buying the same jet that will be the backbone of  the U.S.  fighter fleet will only help in any joint-operations with the U.S.

In addition to buying the F-35, Japan plans on developing ATD-X, its own stealthy, twin-engined air superiority fighter in the next decade to fulfill the role played by the F-22 Raptor, which the U.S. refused to sell to Tokyo.

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

blight December 13, 2011 at 11:14 am

Sweet. I'm guessing they will aim at JSF-A, as they don't have flat-tops anymore that can support the -C…and presumably they are interested in keeping their helicopter carriers helicopter carriers. It might be interesting if they go for the -B and opt to give their helicopter carriers some punch.


Jeff December 13, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Woah woah woah… "helicopter destroyer"… we know what it is but lets respect the sensitivity of their political correctness. *sarcasm off* That said I think everyone agrees this is good for the F35 program.


Tim December 13, 2011 at 11:15 am

Great news! Japan should buy the F-35B and use them on the new helo carriers that they are building. This would greatly enhance their force projection capability, especially in defending their disputed islands with China and Russia.


blight December 13, 2011 at 11:19 am

Are you thinking of the Kurils, which are fairly close to Hokkaido and already have dug-in Russian troops?


Tim December 13, 2011 at 11:27 am

Yes. The Russians are planning to send their S-400 there as well, but that could be a few more years. I was thinking more of the southwest islands that Japan currently administers but China also claims it as theirs and occasionally infiltrate the waters just because they can.


blight December 13, 2011 at 11:33 am

In between your posts I did some digging on the Senkaku Islands dispute. Between the PRC, ROC (which presumably inherits the ancient Chinese claim rather than the PRC…or does it?) and Japan.

Perhaps they need to build a runway on one of the Senkakus. Alternatively, build up military infrastructure in the Ryukus (which might be too far to intervene, but at least they won't be as at-risk as occupying the Senkakus themselves).


blight December 13, 2011 at 11:31 am

Alternatively the Senkakus, which are closer to the ROC than even the peripheral islands of Japan and the PRC.

If the JSDF was to defend those islands, it would be operating well away from mainland infrastructure. There is an air unit in Okinawa and presumably naval infrastructure as well, but Okinawa is likely the first target in any shooting war.


jamesb December 13, 2011 at 11:20 am

And peopel here thought they might CANCEL the program????


blight December 13, 2011 at 11:34 am

The government will choose between two U.S. models — the F-35 and the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet — and Europe’s four-nation Eurofighter Typhoon, at a meeting of the national security council on Friday

Wait and see, wait and see…


cozine December 13, 2011 at 1:31 pm

No, the Japanese military will choose among the F-35, the F-35 and the F-35. The other so called "choices" are just there to make the politicians and the public believe that they have a choice.


Prodozul December 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I thought Japan had a defense force and not a military?


mhmm... December 13, 2011 at 11:47 pm

That’s just semantics
The United States has the DOD, Department of Defense, the United Kingdom has the MOD, Ministry of Defense.
That’s just two examples, I’m sure there is more.

Tad December 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm

The US should sell them the F22 as well. Then there would be even more overlap in capabilities. With all the security breaches and info being stolen by China anyway, it would seem there's nothing to lose.


Max December 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Why on earth would we refuse to sell the F-22 to Japan? The Japanese (and the SK's) are the best friends we have in Asia, if not the world. What am I missing here?


Kevin December 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm

They refused because the F-22 is too technologically advanced and we don't want anyone else to know its full capabilities. Though I think thats BS, and we should make exceptions for some of our allies, Japan being one of them.


Ben December 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

My thoughts exactly. If we don't have the cash to build enough of them ourselves we may as well let our close allies do so. The F-22 loses it's muscle if there's only 187 of them kicking around.


cozine December 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm

What you are missing is using the term 'friend'. There is no friendship between nations, only alignment of interest. The Japanese are not 'friend', they have the best strategic position to curb Russia and China's interests in the west pacific. The S Koreans are not 'friend', they are there to keep the Japanese in check in case they think of another Perl Harbor. The SK and the JP are not friends, in fact there was blood feud between these two nations for generations.


tiger December 14, 2011 at 1:51 am

Sorry but that is like calling Canada, "those nice folk next door." Japan is our friend & major trade partner.


citanon December 13, 2011 at 6:09 pm

There are two reasons:

1. Guess who gave the USSR technology to build advanced submarine propulsion screws in the 1980s? That was the single most significant loss of strategic technology since the atom bombs and it could have had disastrous consequences for us during the cold war. As long as there are people in US government who are still smarting form that shocking act of betrayal, Japan will not get US defense technology crown jewels.

2. If there is one country on the face of the planet who has the ability to reverse engineer advanced US technology, Japan is it. We can give them the F-22 now, but are we prepared to see a native Japanese six gen fighter?


Max December 13, 2011 at 6:35 pm

1) Didn't know about that one. That's a pretty serious concern for sure.
2) Got a point


jhm December 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm

toshiba gave important info regarding subs, and this actually allowed the Russians to build the Akula…


blight December 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Japan is also one of the few nations with the technical skills with nuclear technology to deploy nuclear weapons. They have the necessary technology infrastructure to be a dangerous military power again, but are held back psychologically.


Nadnerbus December 14, 2011 at 1:47 am

There was also the recent leak of Aegis information out of the JSDF, most likely to the Chinese. Japan tends to be a sieve of intel.

I still think it would be worth it, considering we no longer have the budget to play military police. If our allies are willing to spend some of their dough on military capability when their aims align with ours, I say let them. Perhaps some sort of US oversight could be set up to ensure compliance with secrecy requirements.


citanon December 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Had we bought enough F-22s we might have been able to sell them at the end of the production run. As things stand we might be able to sell them rebuilt ones to partially finance our next upgrade?? It's hard to tell

I get the feeling that having two seats will be important in six-gen fighters to have an onboard UCAV control officer, but we'll see.


Stratege December 15, 2011 at 6:18 am

"Guess who gave the USSR technology to build advanced submarine propulsion screws in the 1980s? "That was the single most significant loss of strategic technology since the atom bombs and it could have had disastrous consequences for us during the cold war."

One of the most significant loss of technology? Really? I don't think so.
Soviet subs were pretty capable even w/o screws made with Toshiba's machines. The screws were not the only countermeansure to avoid detection. Japanese sold to the Soviets just better machine tools, not technology of submarine noise reduction.


Randolph w Simon December 15, 2011 at 8:11 am

You got that right,so why gain some capital.


Lance December 13, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Sorry every site say Japan will NOT replace there F-15s with anything right now its to replace the F-4s in service. With Japans economy recovering from the earthquake and tidal waves of last spring it'll be while before a large number of Lightnings will be bought anyway. The way the F-35 is going in testing it might be awhile before foreign nations will buy it anyway.


Black Owl December 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Great. Now one of our major economic partners can share the MASSIVE financial burden of the F-35 with us.


Ben December 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I know it's hard for you to see good coming from anything other than a Super Hornet, but more people buying into the F-35 is a good thing. The more F-35's being cranked out over time, the cheaper they will become to produce. And right now, we need all the help in that department that we can get.


Black Owl December 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm

That's exactly what I was saying. They can SHARE the economic burden with us. I was just being more sarcastic about it rather than stating it as fact. I never mentioned the Super Hornet in that post now did I?


Tee December 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Japan spoke to soon I think. The New report on the JSF that was just released is pretty bad. Go to Aviation Week and read " Whats Really Happening" and then read the "Official Findings" your self in the PDF link "POGO has full report" It points out 5 Major Problems that will take years and a lot more $$$ to fix.


Tee December 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Japan will be reconsidering their plans after reading this new report.


Ben December 13, 2011 at 7:01 pm

An excellent, excellent buy.

Japan will have a greater capacity to defend against an increasingly aggressive and advanced PLAAF. This is basically a time when the traditional three great military threats to Japan - China, North Korea, and Russia - are all progressing and weaponizing more and more. This F-35 buy comes as a breath of fresh air.

It would be interesting to see if Japan chooses to purchase, say, one or two hundred more F-35s to replace its F-15Js. The reason would be as follows: The F-22 won't be available, the F-35 would still share commonality with the JASDF's existing 40 Lightning IIs, and the F-15 Silent Eagle, while still carrying great commonality with the existing F-15Js, just won't have the low observability to be a good fighter decades from now. Now, yes. 2040? No.

Would these forty F-35s be called the………….F-35J?


Riceball December 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

I doubt that the Japanese will be buying extra F-35's to replace their F-15's considering that the F-35 is not an air superiority fighter and would make an inferior F-15 replacement/ Not to mention that they already have their Gen 5 stealth air superiority fighter in the works.


Kski December 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Well we all know the delivery time for a single F-35 to Japan will be even longer off than when we are supposed to get them. Honestly if they go with the Echo and Foxtrot Hornets… A. They can get top of the line and current training from our navy squadrons based in Japan, economical. An B. They'll be able to take delivery of them earlier.

This dose have a C. It scares our favorite RED MENACE, China.


Black Owl December 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm

I Just though I'd bring some more news about the F-35 to table: http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/special…

Special DoD review recommends curtailing early F-35 production. Why? There are 13 major design flaws that need fixing and have no current solutions! Surprise!


FtD December 14, 2011 at 1:26 am

wonder will they transfer F35 tech to their own twin engine design?


Sanem December 14, 2011 at 6:26 am

my prediction: it'll be late, over price, have serious toothing problems, and be outclassed by whatever the Chinese will bring a decade from now

they'd better stick with the Typhoon: excellent performance, big domestic industry participation, huge evolutionary potential

but most importantly, in any future conflict technology will be the determining factor, and while the F-35 is at the top of the pyramid right now, it'll be quickly outdated, and worse, its design and sensitive technology doesn't allow well for any later add-ons and adaptations, like lasers, ECM pods, more capable prossessors, sensors or software

the F-35 will require tailored upgrades of its existing equipment, while aircraft like the Typhoon will be able to easily install new off the shelf hardware and software (Japanese-made if they want), without being limited by a lack of source codes or stealth rules

for example the F-35 has an incredibly advanced radar and optical sensors, but 10 years from now (when it's supossed to be operational) any aircraft will be able to install more advanced versions with superior performance at a lower price


Praetorian December 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Although the performance is great in the Typhoon. It is lacking in other areas, the aircraft still does not have AESA radar ( and I do know it’s under development ), also its still limited in its strike capabilities. Both of these improvments are needed and under developement, but I would not call it a huge evolutionary potential, more like getting caught up with current
Your Quote : ” in any future conflict technology will be the determining factor, and while the F-35 is at the top of the pyramid right now, it’ll be quickly outdated ”
Wouldnt that make it worse for the Typhoon ?


Sanem December 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm

oh yes, the Typhoon is an awful aircraft: its technology is already outdated by modern standards and it's not even completely operational yet. and that's what'll happen to the F-35 too

the Typhoon however does have an excellent airframe, with plenty of power and room. it'll go through the same process as did the F-15, F-16 or F-18: use the existing aircraft as a basis and upgrade it, with new engines, computers, software, weapons, radar, sensors, add-on pods…

and were the F-16 and F-18 are limited by their small size or design, and the F-15 is simply an old design, the Typhoon is "young" and powerfull enough to go through that evolution

the F-35 started from a different concept: give it an edge in hardware and software, and keep building on that. and this will work to a degree, but at some point the basic design puts limitations on the evolutionary potential

for example you can keep on improving on the stealth material, but it's hard to improve on the stealth design or materials used to build the airframe itself


Praetorian December 14, 2011 at 11:09 pm

C'mon Sanem. I never said the Typhoon is a awful aircraft. In fact, I think it's a world class fighter. But the need for an E-scan radar is very apparent and
EADS Defence knows it. I said it before,and do agree with you, the Typhoons performance is great,no one can deny that. IMO, I feel the Typhoons Ground attack skills are not as mature as the Super Hornets, but I do understand they are improving. Also IMO, Japan needs an air defence fighter, which sould give the Typhoon the edge in this competition. Some could argue that Japan will only buy American, just like the South Koreans
did against the Typhoon twice with the F-15K's.


Sanem December 15, 2011 at 5:34 am

lol, I now see that what I wrote sounded extremely sarcastic, but it wasn't ment as such

you see, the Typhoon has been under developement since the 1980's. its computers were finished in the 1990's. and while still very impressive, that just makes them old by modern standards

Moore's law says that processors double in performance at an equal cost every 1.5 years. which means the computers on the Typhoon, the F-22 or the F-35, after about 10 years, are competing with computers that have 7 times the computing power at equal cost, or equal computing power at 1/7th of the cost

which is why I'm for keeping the basic airframe and updating it with new hardware as it becomes available, rather than updating the hardware. in the last few decades sticking to the old hardware was an option, because technology evolved relatively slow, seemingly lineair. but now the advances are speeding up to a truely exponential speed

this effect becomes even worse during times of intense conflict (and thus large military spending) when new technology is developed that much faster. a good example is WW2, were for example advances in electronic warfare ment no side ever held an edge for long

with the Typhoon, they'll slap on a new radar, EOTS-like system, TVC, external pods, fuel tanks, weapons, processors, ECM, stealth coating… with relatively little effort

but with the F-35, it'll have to be installed internally, in special pods, have to be compatible with the software and hardware… which will defeat a large part of the F-35's worth, namely stealth and super-advanced technology

duuude December 14, 2011 at 10:01 am

Japs just need a few so that they can steal the technology for their indigenous 5-gen fighter.


joe December 14, 2011 at 2:53 am

Yes, but the JSDF has constitutional limits on what stuff it can have - hence the dancing around the subject of carriers and hence why I wouldn't expect them to look at anything other than the -A variant


ziv December 14, 2011 at 9:04 am

Don't they have destroyers that carry aircraft, simply for self-defense of course. The Hyuga can carry up to 11 helicopters, which could make it a pretty potent ship. I think they only carry 4 or 5 in peace time, but…
If they did buy a score or so of the F35B's, that would put a whole new spin on the Hyugas.


blight December 14, 2011 at 9:40 am

For perspective, the Hyuga is about the same size as an IJN Shoho-class light carrier.

Then again, Hyuga does carry some VLS, torpedo tubes and ESSM…


Tim December 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

Japan's new chopper carriers (yes, two) are going to be larger than the current class:


blight December 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Which is in turn about the size of the old Soryu.

They should think about JSF-B or investing in autonomous UAVs, or at least ones that can be directed by other stealthy UAVs, JNSDF ships or aircraft (especially if they cannot rely on having satcom like the United States does).


JoeC December 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm

An autonomous drone is much safer from hacking than a drone that is flown by an actual pilot because there is no need for constant communication. If it was so easy to "hack" autonomous vehicles, then every time we fired a Tomohawk they'd end up falling harmlessly. But they don't. They go right down the chimney of our enemies where they were programmed to go.

As to what happened to the drone, you make a very large assumption that it was hackery that brought it down. You have zero evidence of this besides what the Iranians have said. If you're willing to take their word for it, well then I guess you're welcome to it.

I, on the other hand, would be skeptical of anything that originated from a fanatical theocratic regime that has been caught in lies and exaggerations many times before.


William C. December 15, 2011 at 1:11 am

Chances are that communication was lost with that RQ-170, it ran out of fuel while flying a per-programmed route, and just glided to a landing somewhere in Iran.

Anyway a Tomahawk is a lot simpler. An autonomous UCAV would have to be programmed to deal with countless different scenarios. People say the F-35 has too many lines of code, how many do you think such UCAVs would have?


Steve December 15, 2011 at 5:21 am

Who's talking about Boeing? The Typhoon would have been a much better purchase for Japan.


ziv December 16, 2011 at 8:54 pm

The plan in 2009 was for F35 production to exceed 100 aircraft delivered in 2014, (mostly LRIP 6 apparently). Now it looks like that production level won't be reached until 2015. The aforementioned plan envisioned 4 other nations getting F35's by 2014, now 2015. (And 7 countries getting F35's by 2018 or '19) How would Japan getting 3 or 4 F35's in 2015, and a half dozen every year thereafter, thereby reducing everyone's cost to purchase their own F35's, be anything but a positive? If the Japanese do buy 60 or 80 F35's, the price of everyone elses F35's will drop noticeably. So each of the other countries would probably be more than glad to get one less plane a year, if they could benefit from the reduced fixed cost.


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