The ministry is looking to buy 40 of the next-generation jets, which can evade radar and are estimated to cost about 9 yen billion each. The move apparently means priority has been put on strengthening air-defense capabilities as neighboring China makes efforts to enhance its air force by developing its own next-generation aircraft, analysts said.
The ministry, however, may postpone budget requests for the F-35 until fiscal 2012, due to a view in the government that a contract should not be concluded before the jet’s actual capabilities can be confirmed. The F-35 is set to be deployed in the mid-2010s.
The F-35 is being jointly developed by the United States, Britain, Australia and other countries. Japan is not participating because doing so would conflict with its principle of banning weapons and arms-technology exports.
Japan initially wanted to acquire the U.S. F-22 stealth jet to replace its aging collection of F-4EJ fighters, which are still used alongside F-15s and other planes, but the United States prohibits the export of the F-22, and plans to halt production have already been announced.
Japan passed on other models, such as the U.S. F/A-18 and F-15FX and the Eurofighter, which is made by a consortium of European manufacturers.
The plan to acquire the F-35 is likely to be incorporated in new defense policy guidelines and a medium-term defense buildup plan to be adopted in December 2010.
The government led by the Democratic Party of Japan decided in October to delay its adoption by a year, partly to reflect the policies of its coalition partners.