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The Yomiuri has published (j) a report worrying about the British Sunday Times’ revelation that BAE Systems internal network may have been hacked by Chinese spies and critical information on the F-35 fighter may have been lost. Both the UK and the US were targets of the attack. In particular there is concern that the advanced radar capabilities of the F-35 may now be compromised. Of course the timing could not have been better – the F-35 recently completed its first flight tests carrying external missiles at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.

Clearly the problems are piling up for the F-35 in the Japan context. When it was announced as the winner of the F-X competition there was already some concern about whether the right choice was made, and not all analysts were convinced of the merits of the selection. The main issue was that the F-35 would be twice the price of its competitors but with far less access given to its technology to the Japanese – the acquisition of foreign technology and co-production of the fighter jet was argued to be one of the crucial factors in the F-X evaluation. The other issue was in regards to whether Japan had sent the right strategic signals by acquiring a plane which will have considerable offensive capabilities in addition to its defensive ones.

The response from related sources was that while Japan would gain access to important stealth technology that it would not with the other systems, the most important factor in favour of the F-35 was the interoperability with the MSDF’s Aegis Combat System, as well as with US forces. Interoperability integration between the ASDF and the MSDF, over and above the integration of capabilities of the SDF with US forces, is likely to be a feature of Japan’s tactical and operational evolution going forward, so this is not an unreasonable response. It will be interesting however to see if the loss of data on the advanced radar systems will have any impact on this particular perceived desirable feature of the F-35 acquisition.

Added to this was the sense that the decision made was a political one to please the US, and not based on objective evaluation. The idea here is that since former PM Hatoyama’s resignation essentially for mishandling the US-Japan relationship, DPJ leaders are, and will be, cautious about anything to do with the US-Japan relationship for fear that it would instantly compromise their political legitimacy. Therefore former PM Kan and current PM Noda’s approach to responding to US requests ever since Hatoyama’s resignation therefore appears to reflect a studied but likely disingenuous passiveness. The F-35 saga fits in with a developing narrative that the current precarious DPJ administration will say whatever needs to be said in regards to managing alliance – whether it be pushing on with the Futenma relocation plan despite the futility, or considering sending the MSDF to the Hormuz Strait in less than clear constitutionally legitimate circumstances.   Even the usually unquestionably pro-American factions in the LDP were up in arms at what they saw to be a lack of proper diligence by the MOD and the DPJ as well in regards to the F-35 selection. With further cost blow outs and now the aforementioned theft there is perhaps more reason than ever for Japan to reconsider the purchase.


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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
Corey Wallace has 256 post(s) on Japan Security Watch