Will Japan Afford to Break the U.S. Alliance?

Will Japan Afford to Break the U.S. Alliance? 30 January, 2020

In the 1980s and ‘90s Japan licensed aspects of Lockheed Martin’s iconic F-16 fighter design and produced the F-2, a Japanese F-16 variant with bigger wing and better electronics. Japan plans to choose a partner as early as this summer for development of its successor to the F-2 fighter jet, weighing a proposal from the U.S., its closest ally, against a British offer that would give Tokyo greater control. While the design to be developed by working with another country provides access to technological expertise, it can open new channels for possible imports of the platform with cost effective solution suggestions. For this reason, the Tokyo Government is looking for a partner country, provided that the fighter aircraft equipment and technological equipment will be developed in the Japanese industry.

The Air Self-Defence Force fleet now consists largely of U.S.-developed planes, including the F-35 stealth fighter. The first of the countries to be preferred for the new design is considered to be the USA. In this case, a handicap appears for Tokyo. While Japan and America worked together on the F-2, design details for key parts have not been disclosed to the Japanese side. And Tokyo cannot upgrade the planes freely, which has limited their usability.

  According to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Japan, the US will share secret details of the F-35 aircraft with Tokyo to promote partnership. The White House, on the other hand, looks at the partnership with certainty. But some US officials are worried that Tokyo will anger the US president by choosing a British fighter jet to replace its ageing fleet of F2 fighter jets. “I do not see any real competition at this point in the fifth-generation aircraft market,” he said. “It remains to be seen whether the British will even manufacture a fifth-generation jet. It is hard to see how Japan would go for a concept fighter with no customers lined up. Even the UK right now is buying [the US-made] F-35. So, I am not really too concerned about that competition at this point.” Robert O’Brien, the White House national security adviser said.

Meanwhile, the UK is in the early stages of developing its own next generation fighter, dubbed the Tempest. Some within Tokyo are calling for a partnership based on this model, partly in the belief that the UK would be more accepting of a Japanese-led project. The proposal centres on London-based contractor BAE Systems, with other European companies potentially joining in.But there are deep reservations, with some saying Japan should prioritize its relationship with its close ally, the US.

The proposed defence budget for the fiscal year starting in April earmarks $102 million for work on the new plane. The government plans to choose a partner either when it submits its draft budget request for fiscal 2021 this summer or, at the latest, by the time the budget is compiled late this year.

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