Pentagon to reject Japan’s request to join F-35 programme -Defence News

The Pentagon plans to reject a formal request by Japan to join the F-35 programme as a full partner, Defense News website reported.

The report arrives following Turkey’s expulsion earlier this month from the F-35 fighter jet programme, in response to the country’s procurement of the S-400 Russian missile system. Washington maintains the S-400 is not compatible with NATO systems and jeopardises the long-term security of the F 35 programme. 

Japan’s Ministry of Defence, in a letter dated June 18, formally requested information on how Japan could move from being a customer of the F-35 to a full-fledged member of the industrial base consortium, Defence News said. 

“We would like to make a final decision whether we could proceed to become a partner country by thoroughly examining the rights and obligations associated with becoming a partner country based on the terms and conditions you would provide,” it quoted the letter as saying. 

However, partnership in the programme remains limited to the initial wave of F-35 investors, the F-35 Joint Program Office told Defense News, and the bad news will be delivered to Japanese officials in a meeting with the Pentagon acquisition head later this week. 

The partners are made up of the first nine nations to sign onto the program are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

There are two tiers of participation in the F-35 program. The two-tier F-35 programme is comprised of members are considered “partners” in the program, which comes with direct involvement in the joint program office, followed by “customers” for the jet, comprising nations that came later to the programme. The latter tier is made up of Israel, South Korea, Belgium and Japan, but could expand in the future with Finland, Singapore and other nations, the website said. 

“From a pure program logistics perspective, Japan becoming a partner would not be a problem, and in fact program officials would likely find it easier to deal with the largest foreign buyer of the F-35 as a partner rather than customer overall. The politics, however, quickly get tricky,’’ the article said. 

However, by allowing Japan be allowed to join, “you’ve opened Pandora’s box,” according to a former senior official in the F-35 programme.

Other countries such as South Korea and Israel would try to use Japan’s joining the program as a way in, the official added.

Japan is the only country to have made formal requests to join the program, Brandi Schiff, a spokesperson for the F-35 JPO, said.

The Pentagon’s rejection will mean missed opportunities for Japanese firms to pick up work that has been removed from Turkey, according to Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group.

The analyst pointed to the major Turkish defence firms that produce 937 of the plane's parts and how Turkey’s aerostructures work could be picked up by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, as well as Kawasaki and Subaru. 

“Any opportunities to strengthen the alliance through interoperability and cooperation will be emphasized. As an FMS customer, Japan participates in F-35 user groups and other bi-lateral forums and engagements," she said.