Today’s decision to buy 42 of the jets will allow Japan to adjust to any changes in its security environment after yesterday’s announcement of the death of North Korea’s 69-year-old leader Kim Jong-il.
“The security environment surrounding future fighter jets is transforming. The F-35 has capabilities that can firmly respond to the changes,” Japanese Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa told reporters.
Japan’s choice comes as a shot in the arm for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 programme, which has been restructured twice in the past two years, and is expected to increase the odds that South Korea will follow suit with its own order for 60 fighters.
“This program badly needed an endorsement like this, particularly one from a technically respected customer. But there are still many complications, especially price tag and work share demands,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the US-based Teal Group.
He said the F-35 programme was facing tough scrutiny from US lawmakers and defence officials who needed to trim hundreds of billions of dollars from the US defence budget over the next decade.
The F-35, which is in an early production stage, competed against Boeing’s F/A-18 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of European companies including BAE Systems, for a deal that could be worth up to US$8 billion (RM25.43 billion).
Boeing’s loss of the order would be a real setback for the company’s prospects in the fighter business, especially since there were few other large competitions open anymore, said Loren Thompson of Lexington Institute.
“The market place is signalling to Boeing that its days in the fighter business may be numbered,” Thompson said.
“GOOD FOR ARMS SALES”
Japan, which counts the United States as its key security ally and regularly conducts joint military drills with US forces, had been widely expected to choose the F-35 due to its advanced stealth capability and US origin.
Stealth technology has drawn much attention in Japan since China, which has a long-running territorial dispute with Japan, in January confirmed it had held its first test flight of the J-20 stealth fighter jet.
Japanese firms Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and IHT Corp. will participate in the production of the F-35 and its engine-related operations.
The government, in the meantime, is preparing for the unexpected after news that Kim had died of a heart attack, apparently leaving the unpredictable neighbour in the hands of a young successor whose political skills are uncertain.
Aboulafia of Teal Group said Kim’s death and the resulting increased uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific region would help underpin US arms sales in coming years.
“Northeast Asia is a difficult neighborhood, and the situation just got even more complicated and uncertain. That’s probably good for arms sales, particularly for US companies that benefit from the strategic relationship factor,” he said. — Reuters