Today (May 19th), the Sankei released an update on the F-2B fighter trainers damaged at Matsushima Air Base during the tsunami. In summary, it’s pretty bad news: of the 18 trainers, only 6 will be recoverable, apparently through salvaging components from all 18 and sourcing new ones from the manufacturer. The article suggests that this has left Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force without a thorough F2 pilot training course. With the economy down the pan for far too long, significant public debt and the need to repair the extensive damage caused by the recent earthquake and tsunami, Japan cannot afford to replace these lost fighters any time soon.

Here is a rough translation of the article:

A Third of Tsunami-Damaged F2 Fighters Restorable – Repair Cost = ¥5 – 6 Billion per Plane

ASDF Matsushima Airbase's F2 fighter trainers took a significant blow from the tsunami

ASDF Matsushima Airbase's F2 fighter trainers took a significant blow from the tsunami (Source: Nikkei)

Of the 18 F2 fighters damaged by the tsunami that hit ASDF Matsushima Airbase (Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture) following the Tohoku Earthquake, at best only a third (six total) can be restored, according to a Ministry of Defense investigation. Assembling the parts needed for repair will take up to 5 years, and each fighter will cost ¥5 – 6 billion per aircraft. The damaged F2s were used for training pilots, so the MoD is hurrying to find out if it can substitute actual combat F2s for training in the interim.

Although the restoration of the disaster-affected areas is included as part of the FY2011 First Supplementary Budget, the inspections of the F2s put the total cost at ¥150 billion. The MoD is planning to make a firm request for the money for full repairs during plans for the Second Supplementary Budget.

Salt from the ocean water penetrated the fuselages of the F2s, causing further damage following the initial water damage. When engineers from the manufacturer gave the fighters a full health-check at Matsushima Airbase, they concluded that only 6 could be repaired.

From here on, all the planes will be stripped of their parts and their airframes reconstructed. These desperate measures are a result of severe financial constraints, and the MoD just cannot afford ¥120 billion for each new airframe.

This fall, Japan was to receive its final F2, and as production has already wound down, the MoD is seeking confirmation from the manufacturer as to whether it still has stock or not, or whether it is possible to produce new parts.

Around 40 SDF members on the F2 training course were transferred to Misawa Airase (Aomori Prefecture) from April and are currently continuing their training. Until the repair work on the damaged F2 is finished, F2 pilots need a new alternative training course. The prominent alternatives being considered by the ASDF are:
(1) using actual combat F2s for training,
(2) sending pilots to the US to train with F16s, which share the same base fuselage,
(3) initially training on F15s before moving onto the F2s.

The ASDF currently has around 80 F2s. In comparison to the F4 and F15, the F2 is considerably better at attacking ground and sea targets.

The F2 fighter belongs to the the ASDF. Its airframe is based on an enlargement of the USAF’s F16, and unique Japanese technology was installed in a joint US-Japanese development program. Production began in 1988, with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries responsible for 60% of the production in Japan. Each airframe costs ¥120 billion a piece. The F2 embarked on its maiden flight in 1995, and from 2000 has been deployed with fighter squadrons at Misawa (Aomori) and Tsuiki (Fukuoka) Airbases. It is the successor to the F1, the first domestically-produced supersonic fighter. Before its inception, at the point of the debates about the “Next Generation Fighter” (FSX), there was a plan for the plane to be entirely of national manufacture. However, because this became a political problem between Japan and the United States, it was decided that it would be developed jointly by the U.S. and Japan.

If anyone can clarify that final sentence, I’d much appreciate it – let me know in the comments. [Thanks, Michael Cucek!]

[H/T: @JS_Susumu - Surveillance to Go Nowhere]

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch