Japan to allow domestic firms to join F-35 stealth fighter production

The Japanese government has decided to allow domestic defense-related manufacturers to participate in production of U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jets for the Air Self-Defense Force, government sources said Wednesday.

The government, which will sign contracts with the manufacturers in August, is aiming to solidify Japan-U.S. relations in the area of security and nurture domestic defense-related industry, the sources said.

Japan plans to introduce the F-35 as the ASDF's next-generation mainstay jet.

The move came after Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in March that while the Japanese government will maintain the country's long-standing ban on arms exports, it has decided to allow domestic companies to participate in making parts for the F-35 on the grounds that the United States, which is chiefly responsible for development of the jet, will strictly control shipments.

Among the Japanese companies, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. is expected to conduct final assembly, IHI Corp. to make engine parts, and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to manufacture radar parts.

Prior to signing contracts with the companies, the Japanese government is expected to reach a formal agreement with Washington to purchase two F-35 stealth fighters for the ASDF under its budget for fiscal 2013.

Japan has already completed negotiations with the U.S. side to buy the two jets for less than 29.9 billion yen in total, an amount set aside under the state budget for fiscal 2013. They will be delivered to Japan in March 2018.

Japan plans to acquire a total of 42 F-35s, with the aim of getting more than three jets under its fiscal 2014 budget.

The ASDF plans to use four F-35 jets to be acquired by March 2017 as training planes for pilots in the United States.

There has been concern that such parts exports could contravene Japan's policy of not exporting arms. The fighter jet equipped with cutting-edge technology to evade radar detection is being developed by an international consortium, including the United States, Britain and Israel.