While India and China are flexing their air power, the US continues to operate the most powerful air force in the world
Japan is about to become the second-largest operator of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter after the United States. It is also developing a sixth generation fighter jet. With all this, Japan is developing into a formidable air power in Asia, possibly surpassing even China. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Japan is one of the largest military spenders in the Indo-Pacific region, and ranks ninth in global military spending ($49.1 billion).
Japan ranked 5th, just behind India and China in the Global Firepower Ranking 2021, in terms of military strength, financial and logistical capabilities as well as geography. The United States has had a significant imprint on Japan’s military arsenal since the Japanese Self-Defense Force entered into a security alliance with the Americans under the 1960 U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty.
The Japanese Air Force, known as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), was born after the Self-Defense Forces Act of 1954. Japan’s first indigenous fighter was the F-1, developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) in the 1970s. The F-2 ‘Viper Zero’ is another indigenous jet aircraft, based on the design of the US Lockheed Martin F-16.
As a single-engine multirole jet, the F-2 is armed with short and medium range air-to-air and anti-ship missiles. The F-2’s changes over the original F-16 include a 25% increase in wing area, installation of a brake parachute and a modified fuselage, along with an electronic warfare suite developed by Mitsubishi Electric. In addition, it is equipped with multi-function displays manufactured by Yokogawa, a company based in Japan.
Mitsubishi also holds a license to manufacture the US F-15 Eagle, an air superiority fighter, making Japan the only country to build a native version of the F-15. This version is known as the F-15J. In addition, nearly 50 F-4 Phantom IIs, iconic Cold War fighters used in the Vietnam War, are still in service, according to National Interest.
Japan is in the process of procuring a huge number of US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters, one of the most advanced jets in the world, to replace the aging F-4 fleet. Last July, Washington approved the sale of 105 F-35 fighter jets, including the F-35A and B versions, to Japan. The $23 billion deal will make Japan the largest foreign customer of the F-35 fighter jet and the second largest operator – after the US.
Japan is planning to deploy four F-35As to the Komatsu base in the Sea of Japan by 2025, in the context of Japan’s accusations of China and Russia of repeatedly entering its airspace, according to The Japan Times. In December 2020, Nikkei Asia announced details of Japan’s ambitious $48 billion program to develop FX sixth-generation stealth fighter, to stay in the race with America, China and Europe. Production of the F-X will begin in 2031 and deployment in 2035 to replace the fleet of F-2s.
The F-X will be a twin-engine fighter with advanced radars, remote drone control and electromagnetic warfare capabilities. The government of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has approved a record-high military budget of $51.7 billion (5.34 trillion yen) for the 2021-2022 financial year, up 1% from the previous year.