Japan places big order for Lockheed Martin fighter planes

Japan has placed an order for a number of Lockheed Martin fighter planes.

Adriene Hill: Japan will replace its aging fighter jets with 42 new planes from the U.S. company Lockheed Martin. The announcement comes on the heels of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and fears of instability in the region.

David Gleaves is an independent aviation analyst. He joins us for more on this. Good morning.

David Gleaves: Good morning.

Hill: So how much of Japan's announcement has to do with the death of Kim Jong-Il?

Gleaves: The announcement was expected by the end of the month; it looks like the announcement's being brought forward by a few days in reaction to the death of the North Korean's president.

Hill: And what explicitly is the message that this announcement sends? What is Japan saying by doing this now?

Gleaves: Japan is saying that it's going to maintain its strength. It has some relatively old fighter jets at the moment. And it's saying that it is going to be -- it's presenting an iron fist. It's also sending a message to the Chinese as well, who are starting to get a little more active on the Japanese borders in terms of the northern area of Japan. So it's saying that although we're a country that's been suffering recently, we're still strong and we still take our defense very seriously indeed.

Hill: Tell me a little about the plane that Japan is buying.

Gleaves: The Japanese are buying the Lockheed F35 fighter jet. The unit costs about $75 to $100 million. It's a highly capable aeroplane, but at the moment it does have some significant development problems. It's running very late in its development there are some real structural problems that are being found in some of the variants, which is causing the U.S. government to have its own minor heart attack over this program in itself. So whether it will ever be delivered and work to the Japanese is going to be quite an interesting question over time.

Hill: David Gleaves is an independent aviation expert. Thanks so much.

Gleaves: Thanks very much indeed for your time.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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