• Jiji

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The Defense Ministry is looking at deploying new F-35A state-of-the-art stealth fighters to Air Self-Defense Force bases other than the current host, the Misawa base in Aomori Prefecture.

The ministry sought ¥40.2 billion in its budget request for fiscal 2021 to acquire four F-35As in fiscal 2025.

"When the number of F-35s increases, new fighters may be deployed to bases other than Misawa that currently operate fighter jets," a ministry official said. "As we need to gain approval from local communities, we have not decided yet where to deploy them."

Currently, the Misawa base hosts 17 F-35As, with the number set to increase to some 20 next spring. After trial operations, they will be assigned missions such as scramble responses.

The ministry plans to procure 147 F-35s eventually. In the future, F-35s will replace F-15s that cannot be modernized, including those at the Chitose base in Hokkaido and the Komatsu base in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Upgraded F-15 models are expected to be deployed continually to the Naha base in Okinawa Prefecture, which handles frequent scramble missions against Chinese planes.

In the budget request, the ministry also called for funds to purchase the F-35B fighter, which is capable of short takeoff and vertical landing, as in fiscal 2020. The F-35B will be deployed as early as fiscal 2024.

The F-35B will be carried by an Izumo-class helicopter carrier of the Maritime Self-Defense Force that will be revamped into an aircraft carrier.

The ministry plans to use the F-35B for the defense of remote islands and Pacific coastal areas, which are covered by vast airspace. The ASDF's Nyutabaru base in Miyazaki Prefecture is regarded as a strong candidate to host the F-35B, as it is geographically close to the MSDF's Kure base in Hiroshima Prefecture, which hosts the Kaga, one of the two Izumo-class helicopter carriers.

In addition, the budget request included ¥23.1 billion for upgrading the Kaga, including heatproof painting of the flight deck to make it resistant to the exhaust heat of the F-35B engine.

The Izumo vessel at the Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture, which will also be turned into an aircraft carrier, will be gradually modified.

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