Japan’s Air Force: The Best in Asia?

    Charlie Gao

    Security, Asia

    Thanks to lots of American-made planes—like the F-35—it is certainly in the top-tier. 

    With tensions rising all over Asia, Japan has been embarking on a program of rearmament in order to take a more proactive posture in the region. One of the critical pieces in this puzzle is the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF). The JASDF fields a wide variety of aircraft, most American made. However, Japan’s indigenous technology industry has produced many upgrades for these aircraft, making them more capable than the originals in some aspects. They are also one of the only nations that still operates the venerable F-4 Phantom II, a jet the United States last used in the Vietnam War.

    The JASDF lists itself as having three missions: “Air Defense,” “Response to various situations such as Major Disasters” and “Establishment of a Secure Environment.” To accomplish the first mission of Air Defense, the JASDF fields around 260 frontline fighters. The bulk of these aircraft are F-15Js, an indigenously manufactured variant of the American F-15C Eagle. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries manufactured and delivered nearly 199 of these aircraft to the JASDF. Japan is also the only nation to have built the F-15 under license. Japanese F-15s have different electronic warfare and internal countermeasures equipment, a more limited datalink that works with Japanese ground-controlled intercept and no nuclear delivery equipment. Modernized F-15Js have a new radar that supports the indigenously developed AAM-4 air-to-air missile, the first air to air missile that uses an AESA radar to home in on its target for increased scanning speed and accuracy. They also will have a helmet-mounted sight that will interface with the new AAM-5 short range missile, allowing the pilot to lock the missile onto an enemy plane just by looking at it, a capability that would match that of Russian and Chinese Su-27 and Su-30 Flankers. In contrast to the American AIM-9, the Japanese AAM-5 also uses thrust vectoring, similar to Russian short-range missiles. The AAM-5 also uses an advanced seeker made by NEC. Around 200 F-15Js are fielded, half are modernized, the other half remain relatively unmodernized.

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