US approves Japan’s $23bn F-35 purchase

The US State Department has approved the possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of 105 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighters to Japan.

Approval of the potential deal – worth US$23.11bn – was announced in a media release from the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on July 9, after it had notified the US Congress.

Japan has requested to purchase 63 F-35As – the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version of the Lightning family – along with 42 examples of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL)-configured F-35B. Some examples of the latter may be operated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).

JASDF F-35A [Lockheed Martin]
Japan's first F-35A - serial 69-8701 (c/n AX-01) - completed its maiden flight from Fort Worth, Texas, on August 24, 2016. Lockheed Martin/Liz Lutz 

According to the DSCA, “the proposed sale of aircraft and support will augment Japan’s operational aircraft inventory and enhance its air-to-air and air-to-ground [self-defence] capability. 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.”

The country has also requested 110 Pratt & Whitney F135 afterburning turbofan engines – of which, 105 will come already installed and five will be delivered as spares. Also included are electronic warfare systems; command, control, communications; computers and intelligence (C4I) systems; the Autonomic Logistics Global Support (ALGS) system and the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS).

The proposed sale will also include F-35 unique infrared flares and performance-based logistics; reprogramming centre access; spares/repairs; US government and contractor logistics, engineering and technical support.

“It is vital to US national interest to assist Japan in developing and maintaining a strong and effective [self-defence] capability,” the DSCA added.

JASDF F-35A [Lockheed Martin] #2
Adding together the 17 in-service examples and 24 currently on order, an additional 105 aircraft will increase Japan's Lightning fleet to 146. Lockheed Martin/Beth Steel

If the deal goes through, work to deliver the F-35s to Japan will be conducted by Lockheed Martin at its facility in Fort Worth, Texas, and Pratt & Whitney’s plant in East Hartford, Connecticut.

AirForces Intelligence data states that, as of July 13, the JASDF operates 17 F-35A Lightning IIs under 302 Hikotai (302 Squadron) from Misawa air base in the Aomori Prefecture of the island of Honshū. The air arm currently has 24 more examples on order.

Although the sale has gained DSCA approval, it still has must be green lit by the US Congress before any official order is made.