Tokyo, Sept. 1 (Jiji Press)–The Japanese government is stepping up purchases of state-of-the-art U.S. military planes under Washington’s foreign military sales (FMS) program.
The Defense Ministry sought 501.3 billion yen under the government’s budget for fiscal 2020, which starts next April, for FMS-based procurement of defense equipment from the United States.
The amount is down by 200 billion yen from the sum earmarked under the fiscal 2019 budget, which included funds for the planned introduction of the U.S.-made Aegis Ashore ground-based missile defense system, but is up by more than 90 billion yen from the amount budgeted for fiscal 2018.
FMS-based defense equipment procurement is often criticized in Japan, because contract procedures are led by the U.S. side and procurement costs tend to go up as a result.
The ministry’s fund request under the FMS for fiscal 2020 includes 112.1 billion yen for buying four KC-46A aerial refueling and transport aircraft made by Boeing Co. The bulk purchase can curb procurement costs, a ministry official explained.
The KC-46A purchase will be part of the government’s medium-term defense buildup program for fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2023.
But an official of the Self-Defense Forces questioned the plan, noting that Japan already owns four Boeing KC-767 air tankers, deployed at the Air SDF’s Komaki base in the central prefecture of Aichi. “Instead, the country should increase procurement of airborne warning and control system planes that are capable of surveillance flights for long hours against foreign aircraft entering Japanese airspace,” the official said.
A total of six KC-46As are planned to be introduced by the end of fiscal 2024. The first of them is slated to be deployed at the ASDF’s Miho base in Tottori Prefecture, western Japan, in fiscal 2020, and a new air squadron will be established. It has yet to be decided how many KC-46A aircraft the base will host eventually, informed sources said.
A government official defended the planned purchase of the KC-46A, saying that it can refuel F-35B cutting-edge stealth fighters Japan plans to procure from the United States.
“Increasing aerial refueling aircraft will help strengthen our logistic support for the U.S. military based on Japan’s national security legislation,” the official stressed.
The Defense Ministry also asked for funds to procure six F-35Bs, which cost 14 billion yen each, under the FMS. The Maritime SDF’s Izumo-class destroyers are slated to be remade into de facto aircraft carriers so that they can host F-35Bs.
With their delivery slated for fiscal 2024, the stealth fighters are seen to be deployed at facilities including the ASDF’s Nyutabaru base in Miyazaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan, with their missions possibly including the defense of the country’s southwestern islands.
Also sought under the FMS were funds for buying three more F-35A stealth fighters, each costing 10.3 billion yen, for deployment at the ASDF’s Misawa base in the northeastern prefecture of Aomori.
Currently 12 F-35As are based at Misawa, operated by one ASDF squadron. With the number set to top 20 within fiscal 2020, another F-35A squadron will be created.
While prices of the F-35A are going down as it is now mass-produced, those of the F-35B are high because it is capable of short takeoff and vertical landing and has a complicated structure.
The ministry also plans to set up a preparatory unit comprising some 70 troops for the introduction of the U.S.-made Global Hawk large unmanned surveillance aircraft at the Misawa base.
The ministry has already placed Global Hawk orders under the FMS in the past, with three units planned to be deployed from fiscal 2021. Each of them is priced at 17 billion yen.