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Japan gov't looking to buy 105 more F-35 stealth fighters

A U.S. F-35B stealth fighter is seen in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in this 2017 file photo. (Mainichi/Norio Oyama)

TOKYO -- The government is moving to buy a further 105 F-35 stealth fighters, 42 of which will be F-35B short-takeoff and vertical landing variants of the aircraft.

This will bring the total number of F-35s in Japan's inventory to 147, including the 42 already slated for purchase. Funding for about half of the initial 42 aircraft will be included in the Mid-term Defense Program budget outline for the five fiscal years starting from April 2019, set to be finalized by Cabinet decision on Dec. 18. The planes are intended to replace the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF)'s aging fleet of F-15s as Japan's primary fighter aircraft.

F-35s are considered cutting-edge "fifth generation" stealth warplanes, and are equipped with sophisticated sensor packages new to the ASDF. The force already has a number of regular takeoff and landing F-35A variants in service to replace its F-4 Phantom planes.

The plan to buy large numbers of the U.S.-made F-35 is intended both to counter China's and Russia's increasing military activity in the waters around Japan, and to satisfy the demands of President Donald Trump for Tokyo to buy more U.S. defense equipment.

The plan to buy F-35s to replace Japan's 99 most out-of-date F-15 Eagle fighters has received approval from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito. The F-35B variants included in the latest purchase plan are expected to be operated from the Maritime Self-Defense Force's Izumo-class vessels after their conversion from helicopter carriers to true aircraft carriers.

However, with each F-35A costing an estimated 10 billion yen (about $88 million) and F-35Bs clocking in at some 15 billion yen (about $132 million), the total outlay for 105 of the aircraft would exceed 1.26 trillion yen (about $11.1 billion). The next five-year Mid-term Defense Program budget draft appears likely to be settled in the 27 trillion yen range. However, the Finance Ministry's Fiscal System Council has called for that to be trimmed by at least 1 trillion yen by efficient equipment acquisitions, making a lower funding total probable.

(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)

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