Earlier, Washington booted Turkey out of the F-35 stealth fighter programme and said the country wouldn’t be getting its 120 stealth fighter jets after Ankara refused to cancel its S-400 missile system deal with Russia.
Despite the deadly crash of a Japanese Air Self-Defence Force F-35A earlier this year, Japan has gone ahead an expressed formal interest in joining the F-35 programme as a full partner nation, Defense News has reported.
However, according to Pentagon sources cited by the outlet, the US plans on rejecting Tokyo’s request amid a desire to keep the F-35’s buyers from having too much of a say in the development of future capabilities for the aircraft, which already has an estimated lifetime R&D, production and exploitation price tag of over $1.5 trillion.
“I believe becoming a partner country in F-35 programme is an option,” a June 18 letter from Japanese Bureau of Defence Buildup Planning director Atsuo Suzu to Pentagon head of acquisitions Ellen Lord cited by Defense news said.
“I would like to have your thoughts on whether or not Japan has a possibility to be a partner country in the first place. Also, I would like you to provide the Ministry of Defence with detailed information about the responsibilities and rights of a partner country, as well as cost sharing and conditions such as the approval process and the required period,” the letter added.
Suzu’s letter to Lord specifically mentioned a “need to obtain flight safety information for accountability to the public,” in possible reference to possible delays in the delivery of safety information to the Japanese side following April’s F-35A crash.
However, Brandi Schiff, a spokesperson from the F-35 Joint Program Office, told said that the F-35’s partnership has been closed since July, 2002, with a Pentagon memo from April 2002 memo stating that the US would “not be able to accommodate any additional Level III partners due to our inability to offer equitable government-to-government benefits and US industry’s inability to offer equitable ‘best value’ workshare arrangements.”
In other words, only the countries who had taken part in the initial development of the fighter could be partners during its production and any modernization.
An unnamed source said to be familiar with the F-35 partner nation status discussions told Defense News that if Japan were let in as a partner, other countries, such as South Korea or Israel, might ask for similar perks. At the same time, the source admitted that the rules were created by the Pentagon and the State Department, and could be changed if Washington wanted it, particularly in the wake of the void left by Turkey’s exit from the programme.
“This is a very interesting political football that DoD has to wrestle with….I personally think DoD doesn’t want the headache if they say yes,” the official said.
Ellen Lord is expected to meet with Japanese defence officials later this week, with the F-35 issue expected to be discussed at the meeting.
As a second tier partner, Japan has less say in the production of the planes and no voting power on its modernization, or representation in the Joint Program Office. Tokyo announced plans to buy several dozen F-35 aircraft in late 2011, upping the number to 147 in late 2018. When delivered, the country will have the second-largest fleet of F-35s in the world after the US itself.