TOKYO (WASHINGTON POST) - The Japanese government is considering acquiring 80 to 100 additional state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighters for the Air Self-Defence Force (ASDF), sources said.
Added to the current deployment plan, this would give the ASDF 120 to 140 F-35 fighters in total.
The purchase of the extra fighters is apparently aimed at countering China's rapid expansion of air power.
The stealth functions of the F-35, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp of the United States, make it difficult to detect by enemy radar.
The government is planning to deploy 42 units of the F-35A model, which takes off and lands from conventional runways, to replace its F-4 fighters, which are due for replacement.
According to several government sources, the additional F-35 fighters would replace about half of the current fleet of about 200 F-15 fighters, whose functions would be difficult to enhance.
The F-15 is currently the ASDF's primary fighter jet.
As F-35 fighters cost more than 10 billion yen (S$121 million) a piece and have greater capabilities than the F-15, the government may choose to eliminate one squadron of about 20 planes and eventually purchase only about 80 units, the sources said.
In the next Medium Term Defence Programme for fiscal 2019-23, which is to be compiled by the government in December, the government initially intended to add about 20 F-35A units, but it is now likely to call for a higher figure.
The overall plan for acquiring additional F-35A units is expected to be decided in December, in tandem with the release of the five-year defence programme.
In addition to the F-35A, the government is also considering acquiring the F-35B model, which can take off from short runways and land vertically. These features could help strengthen the defence of remote islands.
The government is considering turning a Marine Self-Defence Force Izumo-class destroyer into an aircraft carrier that could handle F-35B take-offs and landings.
Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya said at a press conference on Tuesday that the government wants it "to be as multi-purpose as possible", signalling a willingness to go ahead with turning the destroyer into an aircraft carrier.
The new National Defence Programme Guidelines are expected to describe the course the government plans to take on remodelling the Izumo and acquiring F-35B fighters.