Japan Firms Up on F-35B; F-16s Approved for Taiwan

 - August 21, 2019, 6:05 AM
Japan is to get the STOVL version of the F-35 to complement its F-35As. In August, JASDF F-35s resumed flying after a post-crash stand-down. (photo: JASDF)

As expected, the Japanese Ministry of Defense formally approved the acquisition of 42 Lockheed Martin F-35Bs to operate from short airstrips and the Izumo-class helicopter carriers, which are to be modified to be capable of F-35 operations. The brief August 16 announcement follows the December 2018 publication of Japan’s Medium-Term Defense Plan, which outlined the intention to buy F-35Bs.

Japan is setting aside funding for 18 F-35Bs through Fiscal Year 2023, although no plans for funding the remaining 24 have been revealed. The 42 STOVL (short takeoff/vertical landing) F-35Bs are additional to the 105 F-35A CTOL (conventional takeoff/landing) aircraft that are planned for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF).

The JASDF’s initial squadron of F-35As, which flies from Misawa, was stood down following the loss of an aircraft during a training mission on April 9. Following the June release of the accident report that concluded that pilot spatial disorientation was the likely cause, F-35A flying operations were resumed on August 1.

Four days after the Japanese announcement, on August 20, Taiwan’s request for additional Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters was approved by the U.S. State Department. The potential sale, worth around $8 billion, covers 66 F110-powered F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft, which would be supplemental to the approved upgrade of 143 existing F-16s to the equivalent F-16V standard.

Submitted by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), the approved request also included a comprehensive list of systems for the aircraft, such as engines, avionics, radars, and defensive systems. Most of them were requested in batches of 75 to provide nine spare units of each item. The request also covers various support functions, including electronic warfare database and mission data file support through the Electronic Combat International Security Assistance Program (ECISAP).

If the latest sale proceeds as planned, the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) would have 209 of the latest F-16 variant, all equipped with the Northrop Grumman APG-83 AESA radar. The process of upgrading the 143 survivors of the 150 F-16A/B Block 20 aircraft delivered from 1996 to F-16V standard is well under way, having started in January 2017. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor with the work being performed in-country by AIDC. The first aircraft was handed over to the ROCAF in October 2018.