Attrition: Tsunami Destroys 15 Fighters


May 5, 2011: Japan has concluded that the recent earthquake has damaged 15 jet fighters beyond repair. Just finding that out was expensive. It costs over $9 million per aircraft to take them apart and find out how bad the damage was. Now the Japanese have to figure out how to obtain suitable replacements, and quickly.

Last March 11th, an earthquake and tsunami (tidal wave) did considerable damage to the Japanese Matsushima Air Base at Miyagi (on the northeast coast of the main island of Honshu.) While the quake itself (the most powerful ever recorded in that area) did some damage to the base, it was the seawater that hurt the most. The  base was hit by a 7.3 meter (23 foot) tidal wave. Among the aircraft damaged by the wall of seawater were 18 F-2B fighters. Most of the other vehicles, and electronic support equipment on the base were also inundated. At the time, it was believed that most of this gear would be too expensive to repair, and thus a total loss. It was hoped that most of the F-2s could be made flyable. But after nearly two months of effort, it's been concluded that only three F-2s will return to service. Some spare parts may be retrieved from the other 15, but that's it. Over a billion dollars worth of modern jet fighters gone. About half of Japan's 33 F-2Bs (the two seat version of the F-2) were stationed at Matsushima Air Base. Worse, the 21st Fighter Training Squadron at Matsushima was the site of most F-2 pilot training. This is going to be interrupted for months, if not longer, and has been temporarily transferred to another airbase. But most of the 98 F-2s are single seat aircraft, and not suitable for pilot training.

The F-2 fighter is very similar to the F-16, uses much of the same technology, and has been in service for eleven years. Because of the Japanese policy of building high-tech weapons locally, the F-2 costs over $100 million each (more than twice as much as a comparable F-16E).

The loss of 15 F-2s may force Japan to speed up its F-X Program. This is an effort to buy 40-50 foreign warplanes to replace elderly F-4s that must be retired in the next 5-10 years. With the F-2 losses, the Japanese may now be seeking up to 60 new aircraft. The F-X competition finalists are the American F-18E and F-35, and the European Typhoon. Japan could also resume production of the F-2, but this is older tech, and Japan wants something more advanced, like the F-35. Actually, Japan wanted the F-22, but the U.S. refuses to export this aircraft.


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