The Japanese government is considering the procurement of up to 100 additional F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets from the U.S., the Nikkei reported on Tuesday.
The procurement plan, worth more than one trillion yen (USD 8.8 billion), can be considered as a response to China’s military buildup. The reported purchase comes as U.S. President Donald Trump pushes Japan to buy more military equipment and other US products, pointing to Washington’s huge trade deficit with Tokyo.
Japan already plans to buy 42 of the stealth fighters for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) to replace its F-4EJ Kai fleet by fiscal 2024. The 100 new fighters Japan intends to procure will also be used to replace some of its aging F-15 Eagle jets.
The government plans to approve the new purchase when it adopts new National Defense Program Guidelines at a cabinet meeting in mid-December, Nikkei report said. It will also include the F-35 order in its medium-term defense program, which covers fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2023.
The 42 fighters Japan originally planned to buy are all F-35As, the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant of the F-35. The additional 100 planes would include both the F-35A and F-35B, which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings ((STOVL).
The government also intends to upgrade the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s (JMSDF) Izumo-class helicopter destroyers to fully fledged aircraft carriers that can accommodate the new F-35B STOVL jets.
The two 19,500-tonne Izumo-class carriers, JS Izumo (DDH-183) and JS Kaga (DDH-184), are Japan’s largest postwar naval vessels. They are 248 metres (818 feet) long and can carry up to 14 helicopters.