Is Japan Interested in the F-35B?

By S.L. Fuller | January 3, 2018
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F-35B Lightning II strikes Iwakuni

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph Abrego

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has on order 42 Lockheed Martin F-35As. The manufacturer said four were to be assembled in Texas, while 38 were to be assembled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya, Japan. But a recent news report from The Asahi Shimbun said the country could be thinking about procuring some F-35Bs, the short takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) fighter variant.

According to the report, “several high-ranking Defense Ministry officials” said the ministry was considering converting the country’s largest destroyer to be able to handle aircraft other than helicopters, like the F-35B. The report, published last week, said the ministry was reviewing the National Defense Program Guidelines and compiling a new Mid-Term Defense Program, which could be completed by the end of the year. These reviews have yielded the F-35B discussions, and the report said a decision could be made before the end of the year.


However, the news report also stated that at a Dec. 26 news conference, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera denied that the ministry was considering modifying the ship and purchasing F-35Bs, adding that "There is a need to always be considering various alternatives," according to the report.

Another report by Asia Times noted that Japan’s constitution prohibits the country from have weapons for offensive purposes, which would include aircraft carriers. However, Asahi Shimbun said converting the ship could be defined as a defensive machine.

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