F-15 pricey upgrade puts thorn in side of Japan-US alliance

Nikkei -- Apr 22
The U.S. and Japan showcased the strength and unity of their alliance during last week's summit, but one particular sentence in the joint leaders' statement that followed the meeting conceals a sore spot in the relationship.

The document said that Japan "resolved to bolster its own national defense capabilities." This commitment includes modernizing the Air Self-Defense Force's F-15 jets in a plan seen as crucial for maintaining air superiority.

But Japan put spending for the upgrade on hold after Washington last year tripled the price tag from its initial estimate.

During their first in-person meeting about a month ago, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi urged American counterpart Lloyd Austin to start afresh with negotiations on the F-15 upgrades, asking for "a little more consideration." Delays could harm Japan's defense capabilities, he said.

Japan's five-year defense plan starting in fiscal 2019 calls for modifying some of the ASDF's 200 F-15s to carry long-range missiles and electronic warfare systems. The U.S. originally estimated the front-end costs involved, such as designing the upgrades and buying the required production gear, at 80.7 billion yen ($745 million at current rates).

But Tokyo was informed by the prior U.S. administration that the price had surged to $2.2 billion. Parts used in the electronic warfare equipment had run out, and special steps were needed to make them, the explanation went.

The sudden hike felt off to Kishi, who has experience doing business with foreign companies from his more than two decades working at a major trading house. Kishi directed ministry officials to tell Washington that Tokyo "cannot spend money it doesn't have," and to find a compromise.

- Nikkei