TOKYO -- The Ministry of Defense plans to seek funding for the purchase of six F-35 stealth fighter jets in next fiscal year's budget to strengthen defense of remote southwestern islands against China, which has grown increasingly assertive at sea and in the air.
The ministry intends to ask that 124.9 billion yen ($1.2 billion) be set aside. The Air Self-Defense Force hopes to buy 42 of the aircraft in all to replace its fleet of aging F-4 fighters. The new fighters will be scrambled when foreign planes approach Japanese airspace.
Japan has purchased 10 F-35s over the three years from fiscal 2012, but this will mark its first time buying six in a single year.
The ministry will also seek 54 billion yen for the purchase of three surveillance drones capable of extended flight. It has its sights set on the Global Hawk, which is used by the U.S. military and can collect information from about 18,000 meters up. Japan envisions employing the Global Hawk, said to be capable of flying for more than 30 hours straight, for surveillance and reconnaissance missions in the East China Sea.
The ministry is also expected to request 58.8 billion yen for new airborne early-warning aircraft. By the end of the year, it will choose between Northrop Grumman's E-2D, which is the successor to the E-2C now used by the SDF, and a Boeing plane.
The government's plan to strengthen defenses over the five years through fiscal 2018 calls for the introduction of 28 F-35s, three drones and four early-warning aircraft.
Defense-related budget requests for fiscal 2015 are also expected to include 13.7 billion yen for improving the capability of E-767 Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft, 10 billion yen for repairing eight F-15 fighters, and 8.2 billion yen for buying surface-to-air missiles.