Asia Defense

Japan to Arm F-35 Joint Strike Fighter With Long-Range Stand-off Missile

Japan’s military is slowly acquiring more offensive capabilities.

Japan to Arm F-35 Joint Strike Fighter With Long-Range Stand-off Missile
Credit: Raytheon Company

The Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) is purportedly considering arming its burgeoning fleet of F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighter jets with the next-generation, long-range, precision-guided Joint Strike Missile (JSM), the Yomiuri newspaper reported on June 27.

The JSM is a “promising candidate” for the F-35A as the JASDF is slowly developing a long-range preemptive strike capability, primarily aimed at targeting North Korean military installations in the event of war, the newspaper notes.

However, despite some media reports to the contrary, the Japanese Ministry of Defense has so far not officially selected an air-to-ground missile system. Other candidates for bolstering the JASDFs offensive capabilities include the U.S.-made Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) or the GBU-31JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) air-to-ground guided bomb.

The JSM, co-developed by U.S. defense contractor Raytheon and Norwegian defense company Kongsberg Gruppen, is a fifth-generation cruise missile specifically designed to fit inside the F-35A’s weapons bay to maintain the aircraft’s stealth capabilities. (The F-35A can purportedly carry up to two JSMs in its missile bay.) As I reported in 2015:

According to Raytheon features of the missile include an advanced engagement planning system that exploits the geography in the area; accurate navigation system for flight close to terrain; a high maneuverability to allow flight planning in close vicinity to land masses; a discriminating seeker with imaging infrared technology; two-way networking datalink (…) offering target-updates; as well as retargeting and mission-abort capabilities.

The JSM has been under development since 2008 and is slated to become fully operational by 2025 with initial operational capability expected in 2021. The missile is designed for medium-range anti-ship and land attack missions and can “take on high value, heavily defended targets,” according to Raytheon. “The long standoff range (distance from the aircraft to the target) ensures that the aircraft and pilots remain out of harm’s way.”

As I reported earlier this month, the first F-35A assembled in Japan was rolled out during a ceremony at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya, Japan on June 5.  Japan’s first foreign military sales F-35A fighter jet was rolled out in September 2016 at a Lockheed Martin production facility in Texas  following its maiden flight in August (See: “Japan Air Self Defense Force Rolls Out 1st F-35A Stealth Fighter Jet”).

Japan’s MoD selected the F-35A conventional take-off and landing variant for the JASDF in December 2011 following a competitive bidding process.  Japan will receive a total of 42 F-35A combat aircraft through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program and might place a follow-on order for additional F-35A fighter jets in the near future.