Asia Defense

Japan Mulls Ceasing In-Country Assembly of F-35 Fighter Jets

Tokyo is reviewing ceasing indigenous production of the F-35A to save costs.

Japan Mulls Ceasing In-Country Assembly of F-35 Fighter Jets
Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Japanese government is reviewing shutting down Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya, Japan, with an eye to saving production costs, according to recent media reports.

Japanese government documents reviewed by Flight Global indicate that no final decision has been made and the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) has so far not publicly commented on the matter.

Japan has placed an order for 42 fifth-generation Lightning II F-35A stealth fighter jets — the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing variant — for service in the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF).

While the first batch of four Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-35As were all built in the United States, the remaining 38 F-35A aircraft are currently being assembled in Nagoya. Japan rolled out its first locally assembled F-35A in June 2017.

The F-35 components are manufactured abroad and assembled in Japan. Hopes that Japan’s aircraft industry would play a larger role in the domestic production of the F-35A have remained unfulfilled thus far. Japan has also not been granted access to some of the more sensitive F-35A technologies during the assembly process.

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According to Defense News, local production is set to continue at least until the end of fiscal year 2022. The JASDF plans to induct six F-35As in the upcoming Japanese fiscal year that runs from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.

Japan’s December 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) note that the Japan Self Defense Force will place a priority on acquiring “high-performance equipment at the most affordable prices possible” and “review or discontinue projects of low cost-effectiveness.”

According to Japanese budget documents reviewed by Defense News, the current batch of six F-35A will cost around $120 million each.

It is not clear whether the cost of Japan-assembled F-35s include amortization, which cost around $1 billion to built. FACO amortization would add about $26 million per aircraft if spread out over the 38 F-35As that will be assembled there.

An Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency source noted last year that assembling the aircraft in Japan costs over $30 million more than the same aircraft from the United States.

The cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved in December 2018 an increase of Japan’s existing order for 42 to 147 F-35 aircraft. The order is expected to consist of 63 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs, the U.S. Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft.

“The current NDPG and the fiscal 2019-2023 midterm defense buildup program outline an initial procurement of 27 F-35As and 18 F-35Bs over the next five years,” I wrote in December 2018. “Total acquisition costs for the additional 63 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs will likely exceed $10 billion.”

In January 2018, the JSDF deployed its first F-35A at Misawa Air Base in the northernmost part of Honshu. Ten Japanese F-35As are currently operationally deployed and the first JASDF squadron will be officially stood up in the coming months.