Shigeru Iwasaki, chief of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces’ Joint Staff said on Wednesday that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighters were the best choice for Japan’s nation’s future operational needs.
“When I was the head of the air force, I spearheaded the decision (to procure F-35s). Or, rather, we drew up a plan, which was then approved by defense minister,” said Iwasaki, a veteran fighter pilot who used to fly F-15s, Japan’s current mainstay combat aeroplane.
“There were various candidates. But I still believe the F-35 is the best fighter, when we think about Japan’s future national security,” he said in an interview with Reuters.
Japan has been asking for years for the right to purchase F-22 Raptor fighter jets from the U.S. to beef up its air defenses against a bellicose North Korea and an increasingly technologically advanced China, which reportedly has two “fifth-generation” stealth fighters of its own in the works — the Chengdu J-20 and the Shenyang J-31. The U.S., however, canceled the F-22 program without ever approving a single sale to Japan, leaving the F-35 as the only remaining U.S.-built fifth-generation fighter available to buy.
Japan, one of the closest U.S. allies in Asia, has plans to purchase 42 F-35s, with the first four planes scheduled for delivery by March 2017.