Japan has said it may cancel its F-35 orders if the jets rise in price or face further delays, as fallout continues over US plans to put off its own orders for the fighters.
Japan has agreed to pay about US$123 million per plane under an initial order for four of the jets, which are scheduled for delivery by 2017. The country plans to buy 42 F-35s in all.
But as part of cost cutting moves at the Pentagon, the US has announced plans to delay orders for 179 F-35s over the next five years, a decision F-35 maker Lockheed Martin says will increase unit costs by as much as $10 million per aircraft and hamper plans to ramp up production.
Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka told the country’s parliament on Wednesday that he expected to conclude an official contract for the first four planes by mid-year.
“If it turns out they cannot meet what they have proposed by that time, that would raise concerns about our defence capability,” Tanaka said, according to Reuters. “I believe we would need to consider as a potential option matters like cancelling our orders and starting a new selection process if that is the case.”
Officials from other partner countries in the F-35 program – including Australia — were expected to meet with US defense officials this week to express their displeasure with the slowdown in US acquisitions.
Australia is scheduled to take its first two F-35As in 2014, with 12 more to follow out of a total requirement for 100. These first 14 aircraft will be required in order to commence pilot and maintainer training in the US from 2015 before returning to Australia in 2017 to establish an initial operating capability (IOC).
Meanwhile, the US Air Force this week authorised the start of initial, limited flights of the F-35A by certified test pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where pilots and maintainers will be trained. The first flight is scheduled for next week.