Japan is contemplating buying up to 100 F-35 stealth fighters from the U.S. for more than $8.8 billion as it seeks to counter China’s growing military presence in the region, a newspaper reported yesterday.
The reported purchase comes as President Donald Trump pushes Japan to buy more military equipment and other U.S. products, pointing to Washington’s huge trade deficit with Tokyo.
Japan has already decided to buy 42 F-35 stealth fighter jets from the U.S. and is now considering purchasing as many as 100 more, worth more than one trillion yen ($8.8 billion), according to the evening edition of the Nikkei daily.
The cabinet is expected to approve the plan in mid-December when the nation’s defense program guidelines are released, the business daily said.
A defense ministry spokesman declined to confirm the report, saying only, “Everything related to additional purchases is under consideration.”
In September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly told Trump: “Introducing high-spec military equipment, including U.S. equipment, is important to strengthen Japan’s defense.”
Tokyo is also considering upgrading its helicopter carriers so that they can transport and launch fighter jets, Kyodo News reported, quoting a government source.
The government is looking to upgrade the Izumo, a flat-top destroyer that currently carries helicopters, to a fully fledged aircraft carrier that is critical in the face of China’s maritime assertiveness, the local news agency said.
China is deploying its first stealth fighter into military service in the latest milestone highlighting the modernization of the country’s armed forces.
Izumo-class 19,500-ton carriers – Japan’s largest postwar naval vessels – are 248 meters long and can carry up to 14 helicopters.
The plan is also expected to be finalized when the guidelines are published next month, it added.
Asked about upgrading the vessels, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters yesterday: “We would like to use them for as many purposes as possible.” The move indicates a shift from Japan’s defense-oriented policy, the news agency said.
Under Japan’s pacifist constitution, the nation’s military has long been restricted to self-defense and the country relies heavily on the U.S. under a bilateral security alliance.