Sayonara, F-35-san. photo: Flickr user Blueforce4116

The F-35, otherwise known as the ball and chain seemingly the entire Western world finds itself chained to, is probably not looking so good to Tokyo right now.

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Japan may think twice about selecting the U.S.-built F-35 as its new mainstay fighter, given the high cost of the aircraft, observers said Thursday.

Obama administration officials told a congressional panel the same day that F-35s are likely to cost $95 million apiece, nearly double the initial estimate.

Tokyo has considered the F-35 the best candidate to replace F-4 fighters currently used by the Air Self-Defense Force. It hopes to make its selection by this fall.

In 2001, the F-35 was given a price tag of around $50 million, but the cost has risen to an estimated $80 million to $95 million after a string of problems during the plane’s development, Ashton Carter,undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. The U.S. plans to purchase 2,443 F-35s.

Carter also told the Senate panel the start of F-35 deployment by the U.S. Air Force is expected to be delayed to 2016.

The Japanese, the article doesn’t mention, would get the the F-35 even later than that. Unlike countries such as the U.K., Italy, Norway, etc., Japan never bought into the F-35 program. Japan would have to stand in line behind everyone else to get their fighters. Now, assuming the USAF starts fielding in 2016 (which at this point I doubt anyone would bet their lunch money on) when do you think the Japanese might get their fighters?

Keep in mind, the F-4EJs that the F-X program plans to replace were built starting in 1971.

If your flag's here, you're first in line. (photo: Flickr ladybugbkt)

This blog is of the opinion that the Japanese should replace the F-4 Phantom with the F-18E Super Hornet as an interim solution. The Super Hornet production line is still open, and Japan could get their planes right away. The Super Hornet is a tried and true, reliable platform. At $60 million a pop it’s more affordable than the F-35, and unlike the F-35, it comes with two engines. It isn’t stealthy, but the F-X program doesn’t require a stealthy aircraft.

At the same time, Japan can use that $20 or $30 million a plane it saves not buying the F-35 to develop the ATD-X into a real air superiority fighter. The bottom line is, after a good forty year run, Japan’s days of getting the latest and the greatest fighters from America before everyone else are over. That’s partially America’s fault, and it’s partially Japan’s. That having been said, now is an excellent time for Japan to start to develop indigenous combat aircraft.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch