Japan is getting ready to buy 100 new fighter jets, and may tap U.S. companies to make the new planes. The project could cost $40 billion, making it one of the country’s biggest defense contracts ever.
Lockheed Martin and Boeing, two of the largest defense contractors in the U.S., have been asked to compete for the contract, Reuters reports. The new fighter jets, which Japan is calling the F-3, would replace an aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs.
China’s recent expansion of military power could be part of Japan’s interest in bolstering their air force. For the past several years, China has been beefing up defense capabilities in the South China Sea– territory that is also claimed by the Philippines. As treaty allies, Japan would take the Philippines’ side in the event of a conflict. (RELATED: China Sends Fighter Jets To The South China Sea)
Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe has called for a strengthened alliance with the U.S., despite a popular movement in his country to close American military bases. He has also caused to rearm the Japanese military, something that has been sharply restrained by their post-WWII constitution.
Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy will likely be involved in the production of the aircraft shell, according to Defense Industry Daily. Since Japan wants their new fleet of stealth aircraft to be able to operate seamlessly beside U.S. military, they will need to buy or license American technology, according to Reuters.
“We are certainly interested in another potential opportunity to bolster our longstanding partnership with Japan,” Lockheed Martin told Reuters. “We look forward to learning more about Japan’s F-3 plans as discussions progress.” Lockheed’s fifth generation fighters, the F-35, are increasingly popular with U.S. allies.
The F-3 jets will take years to develop. In the mean time, As Japan will receive 42 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets, the first of which will be delivered later this year.
Boeing is looking forward to competing for the contract. “We are constantly looking for ways to … increase our presence in Japan, and are open to discussions with the customer to see how we can help meet their security needs,” the company told Reuters.
The Eurofighter Consortium, a group European aerospace corporations, has also been invited to compete for the contracts. Japan’s defense ministry expects to begin the competitive selection process in mid-July.
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