On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State approved a possible sale of a modernization package for 98 F-15J fighter aircraft valued at an estimated $4.5 billion. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified U.S. lawmakers of the possible sale.
“The Government of Japan has requested the upgrade of up to ninety-eight (98) F-15J aircraft to a Japanese Super Interceptor (JSI) configuration,” a U.S. State Department release noted.
The modernization package will include APG-82(v)1 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, new flight computers, and an improved electronic warfare suite.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a major ally that is a force for political stability, and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region,” the State Department noted.
“It is vital to U.S. national interest to assist Japan in developing and maintaining a strong and effective self-defense capability,” it continued.
The approval of the possible sale to Japan comes nearly two months after the Japanese Ministry of Defense requested a record $50 billion defense budget for the 2020 fiscal year — a 1.2 percent rise over the 2019 fiscal year.
Japan has sought to strengthen its indigenous capabilities in light of growing regional challenges from North Korea and China. The Air Self-Defense Force’s F-15J fighters regularly scramble to intercept military aircraft intruding Japan’s air defense identification zone from China and Russia.
The intensity of scrambles involving the ASDF’s F-15J fleet is bearing on the maintenance requirements and overall lifespan of the aircraft. Apart from pursuing modernization, Japan will largely move to an F-35A and F-35B-based fighter force.
Under the Trump administration, the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has experienced greater political pressure to step up purchases of U.S. arms.
“This proposed sale will provide Japan a critical air defense capability to assist in defending the Japanese homeland and U.S. personnel stationed there,” the U.S. State Department statement on the possible sale added.
“Modernized F-15J assets will better enable Japan to respond to airborne threats and defend its airspace. Japan will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment and support into its armed forces.”
Last year, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Japan had considered selling some of its F-15J fighters to the United States to finance future purchases of the fifth-generation F-35 Panther multi-role stealth fighter.
In addition to U.S. fighters, Japan is is pursuing the development of an indigenously designed next-generation stealth fighter known as the X-2 Shinshin, a successor to the indigenous Mitsubishi F-2.