Japan may cancel orders for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets if there are delays or the price rises, Defence Minister Naoki Tanaka said on Wednesday.
Japan only selected the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in December last year and is due to pay 9.9bn yen (£77.22m) per fighter for an initial batch of four that are scheduled for delivery by March 2017 and plans to buy 42 in total, according to Yahoo News.
At the time of the decision then Japanese Defence Minister, Yasuo Ichikawa, said the security environment in which the fighters would operate was undergoing a transformation, but that the F-35 had “capabilities that can firmly respond to the changes”.
However, the Pentagon this month postponed orders for 179 F-35s over the next five years to save $15.1 billion, a move that a Lockheed executive said would increase the price of the radar-evading warplane for other purchasers.
“As for the first four planes, I expect an official contract to be concluded by this summer. If it turns out they cannot meet what they have proposed by that time, that would raise concerns about our defence capability,” Tanaka told parliament.
“I believe we would need to consider as a potential option matters like cancelling our orders and starting a new selection process if that is the case.”
Continued schedule delays and talk of lingering technical issues have prompted the eight countries that are helping to fund Lockheed’s development of the new plane – Britain, Australia, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands – to rethink their own plans.
Japan, which is concerned about China’s rapid military buildup and constant threats from impoverished North Korea, in December chose the F-35 over combat-proven but less stealthy rivals.
The F-35 competed against Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of European companies including BAE Systems.
Lockheed Martin has said it is committed to providing F-35s that meet the cost, schedule and industrial requirements of the Japanese government, but added that F-35 pricing is determined by talks between the Japanese and U.S. governments.
Japan’s defence budget has been under pressure with the country saddled by a public debt twice the size of its economy.