Japan’s decision to buy the F-35 strike fighter—the formal announcement of which is anticipated next week—is a huge development for the F-35 program because Japan could be the first of many “dominos” to fall in a flurry of F-35 orders, said industry officials. “I can’t imagine Japan ordering a fifth generation fighter and [South] Korea not doing the same thing,” with Singapore following suit, as well, said one Lockheed Martin executive. Both South Korea and Singapore are current F-15 users and Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle is a contender in the South Korea and Singapore competitions. Boeing has pointed out that its Silent Eagle package confers on the F-15 a frontal radar cross section that meets the same stealth export criteria as the F-35. Together, Japan, South Korea and Singapore—as well as Spain—have a collective requirement for more than 700 new fighters, a total larger than the combined anticipated buys of the eight F-35 international partner countries. If South Korea, Singapore, and Spain do follow suite and opt for the F-35, that would have a dramatic effect on F-35 unit costs due to volume, according to the industry officials.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.