The US on Thursday approved a planned purchase by Japan of 105 F-35 joint strike fighters estimated to be worth $23 billion amid escalating tension in the South China Sea between China and US allies.
The approved package includes 63 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing aircraft and 42 F-35 short takeoff and landing variants as part of a December 2018 decision by Japan to increase its procurement of F-35s from 42 to 147.
Japan does not have a coast to the hotly-conflicted South China Sea but views it as strategically important due to its role as a vital trading route.
If the sale goes through from congress, it will make Japan the biggest foreign customer of the Lockheed Martin-produced jet and the second largest operator after the US at a time when the Asian nation has expressed an interest in joining the industrial base consortium as a full-fledged partner over a year ago.
Japan is one of five current US Foreign Military Sales F-35 customers to date, including Israel, South Korea, Belgium and Poland. The Japanese Ministry of Defense selected the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant as the next generation fighter of choice in December 2011.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale and that the exact sum of the purchase would be known after negotiations between Japan and Lockheed Martin.