Japan is planning to announce a massive purchase of fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft next month in response to Beijing’s military buildup, Japanese media reported Tuesday.

Japan will buy 100 F-35s in a deal worth nearly $9 billion, according to reports. The Japanese government will formally approve and make public the decision to buy more F-35s in mid-December, Nikkei Asian Review reported, citing sources.

Japan has so far signed on to buy 42 F-35 aircraft. Japan has about 200 aging F-15s, and up to 100 of these aircraft cannot be modernized. The plan is to buy F-35s to replace the F-15s that cannot be enhanced. The remaining F-15s will be improved and remain deployed for service.

All of the F-35s Japan has agreed to procure until now were F-35A conventional takeoff variants. While it remains to be seen what the exact composition of the next F-35 order will look like, the Nikkei Asian Review confirmed that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force is retrofitting the JS Izumo helicopter carrier in order to accommodate the short-takeoff vertical lift F-35B.

In addition to China’s rapidly expanding naval capabilities, Beijing’s stealthy J-20 deployed in February, and some experts expect the Chinese arsenal of stealthy fifth-generation jets to reach 250 by 2030.

In what will probably become fodder for US President Donald Trump to boast about, the Japanese move is considered a nod to Trump’s sales pitch for countries to buy American military equipment, Nikkei Asian Review noted. Two months ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his American counterpart that “introducing high-performance equipment, including American [material], is important for our country to strengthen its defense capabilities.”

Trump has called for Tokyo to buy more American products to relieve the trade imbalance between the two countries. Trump was reported to have eagerly cast his gaze upon Tokyo as the target of a new trade fight in September, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. The reported $9 billion purchase of high-tech aircraft would put a significant dent in Washington’s trade deficit with Tokyo, which has reached $50 billion in 2018, according to the US Census Bureau.



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