Japan’s Defense Ministry is preparing to select the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to replace its aging F-4EJ feet. The plan to about acquire 40 F-35s, estimated to cost about ¥9 billion (US$91 million) each, is likely to be included in new defense policy guidelines to be adopted this month. Being developed by the U.S., with major input from the UK and partnerships with eight nations, the F-35 is expected to be deployed in the middle of the next decade.
Japan is not participating in the fighter's development because its constitution bans weapons and arms-technology exports. The move to acquire the F-35 means Japan wants to strengthen air-defense capabilities as neighboring China prepares to develop its own next-generation fighter, analysts said. They also said the ministry might postpone budget requests for the F-35 until 2012, when the jet’s capabilities are expected to be confirmed.
Japan originally wanted to acquire Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth jets to replace the country’s F-4EJs, but the U.S. Congress prohibited their export and the Pentagon now plans to halt F-22 production. Japan has apparently passed up other fighters, including the U.S.-made F/A-18 and the F-15FX, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.