Former Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, major backer and lead proponent of Japan’s decision to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 joint strike fighters has revealed that the recent weakening of the yen – caused by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s aggressive economic strategies to boost Japanese exports – could delay, or at the very least slow down, the annual purchases for the country’s planned acquisition of 42 of these modern fighter planes. The modernization of Japan’s fighter planes would boost deterrence against China, but according to Morimoto, the Defense Ministry may be forced to delay purchases of the F-35s, should the yen continue to hover around 100 to the US dollar.
“Because this was a decision by the government of Japan to introduce the F-35A, no matter what the price becomes, we cannot change our principle or our policy. We had to introduce the F-35 to replace the F-4. But the problem is that the price is increasing,” Morimoto, Japan’s defense minister until December last year and one of Japan’s top defense experts and strategists, said in an interview “The question then is how to manage (the purchases). I think the Ministry of Defense has to reshape the number of purchases each year,” he added. Japan had initially planned to have all 42 aircraft operational by 2021, but a delay in purchases could push that goal to 2023.
Last year under Morimoto, Japan had agreed to import four units of F-35s in 2017. The remaining 38 units would then be locally assembled by two local contractors led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Japan, in a sales agreement with the United States, committed to purchase the first four at 10.2 billion yen per unit, around 124 million US dollars at that time when the exchange rate was 82 yen to the dollar. Over the past six months, the value of the yen has plummeted to around 100 to the dollar. “This is a very, very serious problem for the Japanese taxpayer,” said defense analyst Shinichi Kiyotani. “People are wondering if Japan can afford it,” Kiyotani said.
Lockheed Martin, designer and manufacturer of the high-tech fighter, has already been plagued by cancellation of orders due to costing issues and budget cuts, especially in European countries. The Netherlands is reportedly cutting back on its orders on the jets because of delays in the development program, as well as cost overruns. Washington fears that this might cause a spiral that leads to increased prices in the remaining orders, which will then lead to more cancellations. But Japan, as of the moment, is seemingly steadfast in its commitment to modernize its air force, especially with the ongoing tensions with China and North Korea’s aggression.
[via Defense News]