With the Ministry of Defense’s decision to pursue the F-35, we’ve seen some fantastic coverage of the decision among the international press. In case you’ve not been following the issue, take a look at AP’s report below, which covers all the basic relevant details… it’s okay, I’ll wait:

Okay, done? Great. This post is going to show you a few of the choice articles and opinions out there, starting with Humza Ahmad’s opinion piece in the Japan Times today which notes the role of the US-Japan alliance in underscoring the F-35 deal:

F-35 fighter deal brings Japan multiple benefits

The biggest diplomatic advantage of the F-35 is that it sustains and reaffirms the U.S.-Japan relationship. Though some may point to precedent in buying U.S. aircraft rather than relationship tending, recent developments create a need for gestures of goodwill and trust between the longtime allies. The ongoing local opposition to the relocation of the Futenma Air Station from Ginowan, Okinawa, and the failure to adequately handle the issue by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama continues to cause controversy on both sides of the Pacific. Japan watchers have wondered whether the relationship is truly adrift. After the U.S. Forces Japan’s much applauded Operation Tomodachi, which provided disaster relief following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, Japan’s purchase of the F-35 is another strong sign that the U.S.-Japan relationship is anything but adrift.
Read the full article

Over in Britain, the Financial Times had a few things to say on the issue, affirmed the same view on the alliance politics as above, but questioning the technology transfer:

Japan opts for US F-35 fighter
The decision is not such good news for Japan’s defence industry, which was offered more collaboration by Eurofighter’s Typhoon. Lockheed Martin said Japan’s role in building the F-35 would be predominantly assembling the planes and that the F-35’s parts would continue to be made by the original partner nations, with the US and UK in the leading roles.

Read the full article [paywall]

A second article by Mure Dickie in the FT took this issue into much greater consideration:

Japanese industry may be hit by new fighter

Given Japan’s increasing fiscal strains, it would not be unreasonable to simply decide to rely on imports for future air defence. Yet, the government is hardly entertaining such a shift. Instead, the defence ministry excitedly plans domestic development of a stealth fighter. An early test aircraft is scheduled to take to the air by 2014.

How feasible such dreams prove could depend in large part on Japan winning significant access to F-35 technology. Without it, Japan risks merely driving up the cost of the new fighter while leaving itself incapable of creating a successor.

Read the full article [paywall]

Bloomberg Businessweek was far more upbeat on the technology transfer side of the decision, of course it helps that they were interviewing a Lockheed man:

Lockheed Martin Wins Japan Order for 42 F-35 Fighter Planes
The F-35 probably won the Japan contest because of its stealth technology and the nation’s traditional reliance on U.S. military hardware, said [James Hardy, a London-based analyst at IHS Jane's DS Forecast] at Jane’s. Eurofighter is a venture between BAE Systems Plc, Finmeccanica SpA and European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co.

Japan also considered the amount of production work that could be undertaken locally as it seeks to develop its domestic defense industry. Japanese companies will do final assembly as well as work on components, [Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's vice president for business development] said.

The work “will transform Japanese industry,” O’Bryan said. “They get advanced composite work, automated machining with tight tolerances associated with a stealth airplane.”

Read the full article

From China, we have an editorial via Xinhua by Li Hongmei, covering the fears from Japan’s neighbors and the role played in US strategy by the F-35 fighter program, which is expected to extend to South Korea too:

Could F-35 act as game changer in Asia-Pacific region?

While Pentagon wished to take advantage of the reset rapprochement between allies to work as a stepping stone to gaining a predominating presence in the Asia-Pacific region, the jets deal, however, can not necessarily work to that effect.

“The F-35 Program Office looks forward to strengthening partnerships with Japan, and contributing to enhanced security throughout the Asia Pacific region,” as it said in a statement after Japan announced its decision.

Unfortunately, the purchase spree would not only give a boost to Lockheed Martin’s fighter business, but also give rise to a scenario with “swords drawn and bows bent”—perhaps, a region of turbulence and intranquility is just what the U.S. needs to retain its position as a “Pacific power”, ready all the time to reach out the meddling hand.

Read the full article

In the Marine TImes, we get to see what the F-35 pick means for the future successors of the F-15s, which are seemingly (and quite literally at times) falling to bits:

Japan F-35 buy big victory for troubled program

[Jun Okumura, a counselor for Eurasia Group] cautioned however that the selection of the F-35 does not mean that the fighter is an automatic choice for the F-XX program, a 100-plus fighter replacement for Japan’s aging fleet of F-15s, that will form Japan’s next big-ticket purchase.

“The Air Self-Defense Forces have in the past preferred to have a number of different fighters for different roles. And remember, the more F-35s that are produced locally, the more the cost will increase,” he said.

Read the full article

The tone of the Wall Street Journal‘s James Simms cuts to the heart of another debate, weapons exports:

Japan Puts the Dog in Dogfight

Instead of using multiyear contracts, Japan still mainly buys defense equipment in tiny, yearly lots. For those F-35s, the budget request for the fiscal year starting in April is for only the first four jets out of a total order of 42.As a result, Japan’s weapons prices are three to 10 times those paid by nations with reformed procurement processes, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The last major off-the-shelf U.S. jet built under license in Japan, the F-15, cost about $160 million each at today’s exchange rates, several times more than in the U.S.

[...]

Superiority in the air is fine, but Tokyo needs to get its act together on the ground.

Read the full article

The majority of the reports on the pick have been balanced, considering the capabilities of the F-35 alongside the tech-transfer and timing issues, but if anything the coverage goes to show not only how much the F-35 program needed a boost (to steal the Marine Times‘ argument), but also how tight the competition was as a result of the US decision to ban the export of the F-22: the F-35 is not the right aircraft for the the F-X program (on this I highly recommend The Diplomat’s interview with Prof. Christopher Hughes), but neither were the other two.

The other question, raised in some of the articles above, is whether Japan really needs its own domestic fighter industry when it can just import the aircraft straight from the US. In terms of its culture, the MoD (and the ASDF in particular) are crazy about having a domestic fighter development capability, but given the cost of keeping up with the extremely high-level technology involved and constraints on exports, perhaps it is time Japan abandoned this commitment?

What do you think? Have your say in the comments.

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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