By John T. Bennett - 12/20/11 08:52 PM EST
Japan’s decision to buy U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets is the latest example of the Obama administration’s efforts to upgrade allies' aerial strike forces ability — and counter China’s growing military might.
Japan announced on Tuesday its intention to buy 42 F-35s under an expected $8 billion deal. Another close American ally, Australia, plans to purchase 100 of the Lockheed-made fighters. And the Obama administration plans to overhaul more than 100 of Taiwan’s existing F-16s, making them comparable to the newest model.
That means about 250 of the world's most advanced warplanes are on their way to the region, even as China is building its own sophisticated jets and anti-aircraft systems.
The U.S. Air Force also has its super-stealthy F-22 fighter stationed in the region, bringing even more firepower as a check on possible Chinese aggression.
What’s more, Japan’s decision to buy 42 F-35s ... "increased the likelihood that South Korea will follow suit, enabling the U.S. to maintain a coalition of friendly forces in the region that operate compatible combat systems,” defense insider Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute wrote in a column on Forbes.com Tuesday.
The Japan, Australia and Taiwan transactions mean “it will be easier for U.S. policy makers to construct an arc of like-minded nations across the western Pacific that can restrain a rising China’s military pretensions by fielding the most advanced military equipment,” Thompson wrote.
The Obama administration is in the midst of swinging Washington's foreign and security policy focus toward the Asia-Pacific region after a decade of war in the Middle East.
Japan’s decision has been received by military and industry analysts as a big win for the F-35 program and Lockheed at a time when the program and the defense behemoth both needed a boost.
One reason is because "this is the first time it has beaten foreign and domestic competitors in a head-to-head competition," Thompson wrote. Japan’s F-X competition pitted Boeing’s F/A-18 and the European-built Typhoon fighter against the Lockheed jet.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been blasting the program for new cost overruns and developmental problems. He also accused Lockheed of duping American taxpayers out of billions of dollars.