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Politics

Japan wants to sell old F-15s to US to fund F-35 purchases

Washington considers reselling the used jets to Southeast Asian governments

An F-15 jet takes off from a Self-Defense Forces base in Ibaraki Prefecture. Japan's oldest F-15s began service in the early 1980s.
An F-15 jet takes off from a Self-Defense Forces base in Ibaraki Prefecture. Japan's oldest F-15s began service in the early 1980s.

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is considering selling some F-15 jets to the U.S. to raise funds for purchases of cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighters, Nikkei has learned, with Washington in turn weighing the sale of those outdated planes to Southeast Asian countries.

Several Japanese officials have revealed that discussions are underway for what would be the nation's first sale of used defense equipment to the U.S. Tokyo sounded out Washington on the possibility of such a sale as part of negotiations to purchase 105 F-35 jets from the U.S. The two sides are trying to iron out such details as the number of F-15s to be sold and their prices.

By arranging such a sale with Washington, Tokyo hopes to quell public criticism of expanding defense spending amid efforts for fiscal consolidation. Turning to Washington would also help Japan, as it lacks experience in selling defense equipment to third countries.

Japan's roughly 200 F-15s form the core of the Air Self-Defense Force's air defense capabilities. About half the fleet has undergone modernizing overhauls, including updates to electronic equipment, but the 100 or so fighters being eyed for a sale are an older design that cannot receive the electronics upgrades. The government decided at a cabinet meeting last Tuesday to gradually swap these out for more capable F-35s.

The oldest of the F-15s were first deployed in the early 1980s. But even they can be kept in working condition if parts are replaced as needed.

Washington has told the Japanese side that it would consider selling the aircraft to nations with weak air forces. The arrangement would enable the U.S. to provide fighter jets to Southeast Asian nations at cut-rate prices as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea.

Japan's planned F-35 purchase was due in part to heavy pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to narrow the wide bilateral trade imbalance by buying more American defense hardware. Tokyo hopes to appease Trump while using the F-15 sale to lower costs.

The Japanese government also judged that given its lack of experience in exporting defense equipment, it would be more prudent to work indirectly through the U.S., which has successfully sold arms across the globe, than to try to sell the fighters directly to a third country.

Japan barred exports of defense equipment for decades until 2014, when the cabinet laid out principles allowing them under certain conditions. It maintained a ban on exports to countries involved in armed conflict but permitted them when doing so contributes to Japanese security, for instance.

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