Japan’s plans to have a fleet of 20 F-15JSI fighter jets capable of firing cruise missiles to defend the Nansei island chain stretching southwest from Okinawa Prefecture, could be derailed by ballooning costs sources said to The Asahi Shimbun.
The goal of providing the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) with 20 F-15s retrofitted to carry the cruise missiles by fiscal 2027 is clearly set by the Mid-Term Defense Program for the five-year period from fiscal 2019 until fiscal 2023.
But currently there is enough money for only two F-15JSIs: in fact the Defense Ministry sources acknowledged that only 10.8 billion yen ($103 million) was set aside in the fiscal 2019 budget for retrofitting the aircraft.
No money was set aside for retrofitting in the fiscal 2020 budget, and the ministry is not seeking such funds in the fiscal 2021 budget.
Since five years are needed from the time of initial budgetary outlays to actual delivery of the fighter jet, the plan for the fleet by fiscal 2027 could face lengthy delays.
Costs skyrocketed because of the preparing for the retrofitting: various expenses must be paid for design and testing, construction of a facility for the work, and purchases of equipment to carry out the production before companies can start manufacturing equipment commissioned by the Defense Ministry.
“Even at this late stage, we will still have no idea of what the total cost will come to,” a ministry official pointed out.
The preparatory expenses have become so large that a high-ranking Defense Ministry official said the ministry did not have enough funds for the actual retrofitting process.
And because of that retrofitting delay, Defense Ministry officials have also been unable to submit budget requests for the cruise missiles (that should be the JASSM-ER) that the F-15JSI fighter jets are supposed to carry.
It usually takes about two years from the signing of the contract for the cruise missile to delivery.
“The possibility exists that we will have no missiles on hand even if retrofitting of the first two fighter jets is completed,” a senior JASDF officer pointed out.
As we have already reported, Japan started to exploring the possibility of modifying the F-15J all-weather air superiority fighter to give it a ground strike capability by means of the JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range) cruise missile in 2018.
Thanks to JASSM-ER standoff capabilities, Japan would be able to attack North Korea without approaching the country directly from the airspace over the Sea of Japan.
Using a more efficient engine and larger fuel volume in an airframe with the same external dimensions as the JASSM, the JASSM-ER features a range of over 575 miles (925 km) as compared to the JASSM’s range of about 230 miles (370 km).
Boeing has partnered with MHI in the defense arena since the 1950s. MHI produced under license the current Japan F-15J fleet of over 200 aircraft between 1980 and 2000, and will serve as prime contractor for the upgrade. Sojitz Corporation, a trading company that works with Boeing’s team in Japan, will support this effort.
Photo credit: Boeing
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