Japan will purchase 42 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters as it moves to cope with increasing security concerns in northeast Asia.
The Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) said Japan’s initial letter of agreement will include four conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35As to be delivered in 2016 and built as part of low-rate initial production (LRIP) batch eight.
Japan had short-listed the F-35 alongside the less advanced but cheaper and more proven Boeing F/A-18 and Eurofighter Typhoon to replace its ageing fleet of F-4EJ Phantoms. The deal represents the F-35’s first win in a competitive tender, and was seen as increasing the likelihood that South Korea will follow suit.
The move by Japan was seen as an endorsement of the F-35’s stealth technology and cutting edge sensors, as well as a reflection of the country’s traditional reliance on US military hardware.
“It is a big boost for the program politically,” James Hardy, a London based analyst at IHS Jane’s DS Forecast told Bloomberg News. “Many partner nations have committed to buying the F-35, but to have it win an external competition will certainly help take the pressure off.”
The decision is a particular fillup for the F-35 after the head of JPO, Vice Admiral David Venlet, last month recommended slowing initial production of F-35s, saying problems uncovered during early stress testing were more numerous than expected.