Japanese and American news outlets are reporting that Japan’s Ministry of Defense has decided to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the next generation replacement fighter for the Japan Air Self-Defense Forces. If true, it will further solidify Japan’s position as one of Asia’s most advanced military forces. Along with Aegis-equipped destroyers and excellent submarines, adoption of the stealth fighter will give Japan a leading edge, at least for a while, in the aerospace competition heating up in the Indo-Pacific region. The deal might be for only around 40 airplanes, worth around $6 billion, but it marks Tokyo’s determination not to be left behind as both China and Russia field possibly hundreds of advanced fourth-generation fighters and continue development separately on fifth-generation stealth fighters of their own.
With both Chinese and especially Russian planes probing Japan’s airspace in recent months, and with North Korean nuclear and missile programs continuing apace, Japan needs to be assured of protecting its interests and having the nascent capability of projecting power. The country is getting new tankers to allow for airborne refueling, and the F-35 is designed for ground attack roles. While there is still a way to go in Japan’s own thinking on future defense needs, the pieces are in place for a defense posture that will qualitatively equal or surpass any other country in the region. That Tokyo recognizes this in choosing the F-35 is the most important piece of information of all.