Japan has decided upon making a massive, $23 billion F-35 stealth fighter purchase as part of a specific and decided strategic plan to counter Chinese and North Korean threats in Asia and replace its aging, yet high-performing, fleet of F-15J fighter jets.
In total, Japan appears to be buying nearly seventy F-35As and forty-two F-35Bs as part of a collective multi-year effort to overhaul its air fleet of existing, decades-old F-15Js and F-4s, a story in The Diplomat writes. Japan’s fleet of more than 200 F-15s have, the paper writes, been in service for “close to 40 years.”
The F-15J obsolescence issues, The Diplomat writes, have led the Japanese defense ministry to purchase a $4.5 billion upgrade package to modernize ninety-eight of them into a “Japan Super Interceptor” configuration equipped with better radar, avionics, and weaponry.
The Diplomat also cites several high-threat instances in recent years likely to have inspired Japan’s vigorous F-35 modernization initiatives, including North Korean test firing of ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan and ongoing Russian and Chinese violations of Japanese airspace and air-to-air intercepts.
China is well known to be developing the J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters, including a carrier-launched fifth-generation attack variant. In recent months and even years, multiple news reports have catalogued routine instances wherein Japanese fighter jets are scrambled to confront, deter or intercept Chinese aircraft encroaching upon Japanese areas in a far-too-close, dangerous or provocative dangerous way.
Interestingly, Japan’s Mid Term Defense Plan and National Defense Plan Guidelines, The Diplomat writes, specifically cite these threats as providing the rationale for Japan’s long-term procurement strategy.
Japan’s military build-up raises a few interesting questions as to whether the country, now facing a growing and fast-changing threat environment, might actually revise its post-World War II 1947 Constitution, which currently denies the country’s right to employ military force, a move followed by the 1954 introduction of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Interestingly, an essay in The Baines Report from last year says the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party may be planning to add language to the constitution “specifying Japan’s right to defend itself.” Could this lead to the ultimate authorization of some kind of offensive force? For purely deterrence reasons? After all, is that not the premise of the U.S. military force: to prevent war by maintaining a superior force which potential aggressors simply do not wish to confront?
“LDP internal opinions converged on three main proposals: adding a section specifying the SDF’s existence; specifying Japan’s right to defend itself, as provisioned by United Nations Charter; or substituting in a clause defining the SDF’s purpose and capabilities. Since the end of World War II, Article 9 of Japan’s 1947 Constitution—a section introduced by the U.S. during the postwar occupation—has formally rejected the state’s right to maintain a military or employ military force,” the essay states.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.