In late June, the Japanese defense ministry made an initial request for information on next-generation jet fighters from manufacturers, the first step in a long process of replacing the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force’s Mitsubishi F-2 multirole fighters with a new "F-3."
Likely ten years away from developing and christening an F-3 fighter into the country’s air force, Tokyo faces a tenuous air security gap in the coming years as their primary regional adversary China continues to forge forward to the next frontier of military excellence.
Many in Tokyo see the solution, but there is a major impediment standing in the way.
Japan has repeatedly made requests to procure the American F-22 fighter jet, but Japan is legally barred from buying the plane unless the State Department and Pentagon agree to issue a waiver to the long-time ally.
Japan’s ambitions for air superiority appear to be still-born with China announcing plans for the J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters to enter service in the coming decade with Chinese state media suggesting that the aircrafts will even be deployed on aircraft carriers.
Tokyo is now left with an aging fleet of F-2s and F-15s with the latter set to phase out by 2040.
Perhaps more concerning, rather than the F-22 that Japan so desperately hopes to acquire to combat the threat of an increasingly militaristic Chinese air force as Beijing, the United States has hooked Tokyo on the F-35 which may not become fully operational for another half-decade.
Notably, the Canadian Air Force rejected the idea of the F-35 out-of-hand in the face of repeated economic threats from Lockheed Martin to ship the company’s operations overseas with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying that the fighter jet just doesn’t work and it costs too much.
Coming in at a cost of nearly $200 million per unit, the F-35 has already cost the American taxpayers over $1.5 trillion to produce, but still suffers major system irregularities including a deadly ejection seat that will immediately snap the neck of or decapitate a pilot weighing under 135 pounds (and presents a danger to pilots between 135 pounds and 160 pounds) and the jet sporadically shuts down midflight due to an ongoing software glitch.
Japan is now committed to purchasing 42 F-35A aircrafts, a decision made in 2011 when the country selected the controversial fighter jet to replace Japan’s long-running F-4 Phantoms.
Fortunately for Japan, while the F-22 is no longer in production in the United States and has yet to be open for export by American officials, Tokyo seems to be gaining traction with Washington and will make a $40 billion fighter acquisition tender in mid-July with some hope.
In 2006, the United States considered opening up availability of the ultra-advanced F-22 Raptor to trusted US allies, but American politics prevented its export and its production line was terminated. However, with the Tokyo and Washington agreeing in May to an unprecedented joint-military agreement, as part of the Obama administration’s bid to encircle China, there is some small hope on the horizon for Japan.
With Tokyo in mind, the outgoing US Air Force's chief of staff General Mark Welsh said that the idea of restarting the F-22 production line, which industry officials and politicians have long said is a non-started, was "not a wild idea."