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Japan Will Spend A Fortune On Stealth Jets

August 26, 2020

Via Wikimedia Commons.

This July the US government began the process of arranging a massive arms deal with Japan worth $23.11 billion for F-35A’s and F-35B’s. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) published an announcement on July 9 specifying the amount covers 105 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, with 63 being F-35A’s and another 42 F-35B vertical takeoff or STOVL’s meant for naval flight decks. The DSCA emphasized how the sale of fifth-generation aircraft to Japan enhances its security and is a viable replacement for the JASDF’s aging F-4E Phantoms–51 of these Cold War vintage twin engine fighters are believed to remain in service.

The separate batch of 42 F-35B’s is telling since the number almost corresponds to the capacity found on a 27,000 ton Izumo-class “helicopter destroyer.” To date, the JMSDF maintains three warships designed for supporting fixed wing aircraft along with helicopters. These are the two current Hyuga-class “destroyers” and the JS Izumo launched in 2013. For several years the Izumo traveled extensively accompanied by its escorts and its own helicopters. Japan’s navy doesn’t have any combat aircraft purpose built for carrier operations. This is going to change in the coming years once deliveries of the F-35B’s commence. What remains unclear is the distribution of these stealth fighters; judging by its layout and dimensions, the Izumo is large enough to support a dozen on its flight deck and a dozen more in the hangar below. There are two elevators for moving the aircraft between these levels.

The sale of fifth-generation stealth aircraft to Japan was never a secret to begin with. Speculation was rife in Japanese media as far back as two years ago although details were muddled. The necessity of equipping the air and maritime branches with F-35’s is to counter the threat posed by frequent airspace violations by China’s air force. At present these activities are deterred and monitored by the JASDF’s F-15J’s and F-2A’s but should tensions ever rise, having land-based F-35A’s ready in Japan’s southern reaches and the JMSDF’s own carriers close by is a potent warning to discourage further Chinese actions. Of course, China isn’t mentioned by the DSCA when describing the historic F-35 sale to Japan.

If deliveries of these aircraft begin in the next two years Japan’s military can expect a qualitative leap by the mid-2020s and a viable stopgap until a genuine domestic stealth fighter arrives. The current inventory of the JASDF, for example, includes 189 F-15J/DJ’s and 148 F-2A/B’s–the latter is a model based on the F-16–with 63 F-35A’s joining soon. The cumulative effect is an air fleet superior to the PLAAF and the meager inventory of the PLAN and its single functional carrier strike group. For the sake of comparison, the PLAAF maintains an estimated several hundred single engine J-10’s, another 329 J-11B’s, and less than a hundred Su-30MK’s acquired from Russia. Only a small fraction of the PLAAF’s premier multirole fighters are dedicated to missions in Japanese airspace. As for the vaunted twin engine J-20 stealth fighter these comprise the smallest number in the PLAAF’s combat aircraft inventory and it will take years before a newer twin engine stealth fighter, that may or may not be tailored for aircraft carriers, enters service. But the PLAAF does have an undeniable advantage when it comes to its strategic bomber fleet and its remarkable progress with unmanned aircraft.

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