F-35 stealth jet eyed as next ASDF workhorse

Kyodo News

The Defense Ministry is setting its sights on making the F-35 joint strike fighter the Air Self-Defense Force’s next mainstay combat jet after giving up a plan to buy more F-2s, sources said Sunday.

The ministry plans to list the procurement costs for the next-generation jet in its budget request for fiscal 2012.

The ministry, which is trying to update its fighter jet fleet, was planning to retool its F-15 Eagles and buy more F-2s as a stopgap measure, given the delay in the development of the F-35, a fifth-generation stealth jet capable of flying at supersonic speeds, and its climbing price tag.

But the ministry has determined that procuring the less-functional F-2 would be unwise in terms of deterrent capability and cost.

Since China has been mass-producing its own fighter planes, which are comparable to the F-15, and is also seeking to develop a next-generation aircraft of its own, the ministry is looking to purchase about 40 F-35s or other fifth-generation fighters, they said.

The Defense Ministry has requested ¥680 million from the fiscal 2011 budget to obtain information on the capabilities of the F-35, which is being jointly developed by nine countries, including the United States, Britain and Italy.

But since priority has been placed on deploying the stealth jet to the countries developing it, it is unclear when Japan would be able to procure them. What’s more, the price tag for the F-35 has since soared from an original quote of about $50 million per unit to $95 million.

The Defense Ministry plans to start retiring its F-15 fighters in succession starting around 2020.