Monday, December 19, 2011

The F-35 Decision, The Backlash

Last week, the Chunichi Shimbun Group (which includes the Tokyo Shimbun) came out with a strong editorial demanding to know why the government of Japan seemed set to procure the Lockheed-Martin F-35 as the replacement for Japan's aging F-4s (J). For the Chunichi, the issue was largely cost, which seemed likely to have no limits as to upward revisions.

At the same time on Friday, the Sankei Shimbun, which rarely has a problem with a program that strengthens Japan-U.S. military ties and interoperability and never, seemingly, has previously had a problem with Japan acquiring a new whizbang weapons system, also came out with an editorial (J) also asking the government to explain its decision. While admitting that the F-35 offers a counter to Chinese and Russian Fifth Generation fighters and the choice of the F-35 ensures better relations with the United States, the Sankei editors have the same reservations about spiraling costs the Chunichi editors do. They are equally unhappy with the many technical flaws that keep emerging, setting back the probable delivery date of the new fighters. Given the retirement schedule for the F-4s, there is the possibility of a sizable hole in Japan's air defense when it will have only the F-15s (which have only recently come back into service after having been grounded after one of them dropped a fuel tank on a residential neighborhood - E) and its few F-2s as its fighter component.

Now the Mainichi Shimbun, has come out with its own editorial asking many of the same questions as the Chunichi and the Sankei (J). In its editorial, the Mainichi points out the case of Australia, which, out of concern over the delivery dates of the F-35, has weighed acquiring several more F-18s rather than rely upon the F-35 for its defense needs (E). In addition, the Mainichi calls into question the supposed promises of technology sharing and local manufacture of F-35 components, this in the light of the Eurofighter consortium's promise to allow indigenous manufacture of its aircraft, with no technologies kept hidden from cooperating Japanese companies.

On the other side of the ledger, the Yomiuri Shimbun, which normally has opinions about everything including the actual color of the sky, has so managed to willfully ignore the F-35 decision -- which was, to be fair, rescheduled from Friday to sometime this week (My guess is that Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko did not want anything to detract from his press Friday press conference announcing the completion of the cold shutdown of all of the Fukushima Dai'ichi Power Station's reactors). The paper's coverage of the purported decision has been willfully uncritical (J).

So the left and the right do not like the plane and the conformist center-right is keeping its usually open mouth shut.


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