Planning an enlarged acquisition of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightnings, the Japanese defense ministry hopes local industry can gain a larger share of manufacturing in the program, though not with government investment.

Far from being willing to pay out more, the ministry is counting savings of ¥4.9 billion ($46 million per aircraft) from switching to full importation from local final assembly.

Currently, fighters make up the second most in-service aircraft by category, after helicopters.


Twenty-seven F-35As, including the last eight from the 2011 plan, and 18 “STOVL fighters” will be bought in the five-year acquisition planning period that began in fiscal 2019. The aircraft will be delivered in fiscal 2023-27, the ministry said.

Since only six have been ordered in the current year, maintaining the previous rate of delivery, the pace will have to pick up to almost 10 a year on average in fiscal 2020-23. But the exact number will be determined annually, as is usual in Japanese military procurement.

Selection of the STOVL fighter (really meaning formal confirmation that it will be the F-35B) should be announced very soon, certainly in fiscal 2019. Those aircraft will sometimes go to sea aboard the helicopter carriers Izumo and Kaga, which will be modified for the purpose. But the STOVL fighters will be acquired for the air force, not the navy.

They and the additional F-35As will replace the 99 oldest Boeing F-15J and F-15DJ Eagles in air force service. Basing for the extra Lightnings is not yet decided; options include airfields currently accommodating F-15, F-2 and F-4 Phantom squadrons

This is an abbreviated version of an article that appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report by Bradley Perrett.