December 22, 2011:
Japan has finally decided to purchase 42 American F-35 fighters to replace its 110 elderly F-4Js. The F-35A is a 31 ton, single engine fighter that is 15.7 meters (51.4 feet) long and with a 10.7 meter (35 foot) wingspan. The F-35A can carry 8.1 tons of weapons in addition to an internal 20mm four-barrel autocannon. Japan will pay about $127 million for each F-35, which includes training, maintenance equipment, and a supply of spare parts.
Japan originally wanted to buy the American F-22 but was not allowed to. Last year, wary of the continuing delays (and rising costs) of the F-35 program, Japan seriously considered buying another 50 locally made F-2s. This is a Japanese F-16 variant with a 25 percent larger wing area and better electronics. The 22 ton F-2 carries nearly nine tons of bombs. This plane is twice as expensive (at $110 million each) as the F-16, part of that is due to the better electronics (like an AESA radar), but mostly this is due to higher production costs in Japan. The F-2 has been in service since 2000 and 98 have been built so far.
Japan is concerned with the growing belligerence of China and North Korea, plus a simmering territorial dispute with Russia. More warplanes, and the modern ones at that are needed, just in case. The Chinese test flights a year ago for its new stealth fighter, the J-20, also alarmed the Japanese. The delays in the F-35 program are seen as less critical now. South Korea is now more likely to buy the F-35, if only to keep up with their ancient rival Japan.