• Bloomberg, AFP-Jiji, Jiji

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The U.S. State Department has approved a planned military sale to Japan of 105 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and related equipment for an estimated price of $23.1 billion (¥2.48 trillion), as the ally moves to strengthen its naval strike capabilities.

It will be the second-largest sale of military equipment by the United States since the country approved the sale of 84 F-35 fighters, missiles and other equipment to Saudi Arabia for $29.4 billion in 2010.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a major ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region,” the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement Thursday.

Japan had asked to buy 63 F-35A, the traditional version of the electronics-laden fighter aircraft, and 42 F-35B, the short-takeoff and vertical-landing version for aircraft carriers, the State Department said in a statement.

“It is vital to U.S. national interest to assist Japan in developing and maintaining a strong and effective self-defense capability,” the State Department added.

As the Trump administration works to counter China’s expanding military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, the agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of the proposed sale. Japan announced its intention to buy the aircraft in 2018. It may take a year before the proposal becomes a signed contract.

The Japanese government decided in December 2018 to make the purchase to replace its outdated F-15 fighter jets and eventually increase its F-35 fleet to 147, in line with the country’s Medium Term Defense Program through fiscal 2023.

The State Department also approved a possible $620 million foreign military deal for Taiwan to buy parts to refurbish previously sold Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles so that they can last 30 years.

The possible military sales come amid the rapid erosion of U.S.-China ties as the world’s two largest economies exchange barbs over who’s to blame for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. escalates criticism of the Beijing government’s crackdown in Hong Kong and its human rights policies. The U.S. sanctioned a top member of China’s ruling Communist Party and three other officials Thursday over abuses in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

Japan is the top foreign buyer of the F-35 made by Lockheed Martin Corp. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said, “The Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s F-4 aircraft are being decommissioned as F-35s are added to the inventory. Japan will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces.”

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