Sunday, April 18, 2021

China in mind as Japan government plans large-scale deployment of F-35B fighters

Apr 05. 2021


An F-35B fighter is seen in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. (Yomiuri Shimbun file photo)
An F-35B fighter is seen in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture. (Yomiuri Shimbun file photo)
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By The Japan News/ANN

The government plans to deploy F-35B stealth fighters at the Air Self-Defense Force’s Nyutabaru Base in Shintomi, Miyazaki Prefecture, according to sources, in the first-ever stationing of the fighters at an ASDF base.

Arrangements will be made with local governments around the base, with the aim of starting operations in 2024. The government hopes to strengthen its deterrent capability against China, with a plan to operate the F-35Bs together with the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kaga destroyer, which is scheduled to be upgraded to an aircraft carrier, according to the sources.

The cutting-edge F-35B fighter can take off over a short distance and make vertical landings. Even in remote islands where there are no SDF bases, the fighters can be deployed flexibly by making use of civilian airports.

A source close to the Defense Ministry said that as China continues to build up its military strength, the government has positioned the F-35B as a “decisive measure for the defense of remote islands.”

For the operation of the F-35Bs, the government is envisioning situations that include: training using the Kaga destroyer, which is based at the MSDF’s Kure Base in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture; joint training with other F-35Bs deployed at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture; and takeoff and landing training at an SDF base to be built on Mageshima island in Nishinoomote, Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Nyutabaru Base is located close to these bases and was judged to be the most suitable for deplying the F-35Bs.

The procurement cost is about ¥13 billion per aircraft. The government hopes to introduce 18 F-35Bs by fiscal 2023, with the overall goal of deploying 42, according to its Medium Term Defense Program.

The first step is to deploy 18 such fighters at the Nyutabaru Base to form a squadron. The remaining deployment sites will be considered in the future.

Closing the gap in air power with China is the motivation for the large-scale introduction of F-35Bs. Regarding the latest fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, Japan has 309 such fighters, far behind China’s 1080 aircraft. China is making progress in deploying aircraft such as fifth-generation J-20 Chengdu stealth fighters, and Japan hopes to counter with the F-35Bs, which are also fifth-generation.

The government is planning to upgrade the Kaga’s deck to make it more heat-resistant, so that the F-35Bs can take off and land on it, and is considering carrying about 10 of the aircraft. Deploying fighter jets at a land base would make them an easy target for China’s medium-range missiles, so the fighters are to use a mobile naval vessel as a base in case of contingencies, thereby reducing the risk of being attacked.

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