“You can keep an aeroplane for as long as you want. The problem with aircraft age is you lose availability and reliability of the aircraft,” said Australia’s air force chief, Air Marshal Geoff Brown.
Japanese defence officials and experts said Tokyo was not about to panic.
“It’s not like China has great stealth fighters. What matters in military capability is where you are in relation to your opponent,” said Toshiyuki Shikata, a Teikyo University professor and a retired general.
Japan is not sitting on its hands. It is upgrading its fleet of about 200 Boeing F-15s, its mainstay fighter.
Tokyo has committed so far to buying only four F-35s but is building an assembly line to manufacture the remaining 38 aircraft locally.
The F-35 locks Japan in with the future U.S. order of battle - as it does for Australia, South Korea and Singapore - flying the same sensor-packed fighter aircraft as U.S. forces.
“Tensions with China will absolutely lock that in. And South Korea will follow Japan, because politically it would be very difficult for a South Korean government to be seen to settle for something less than Japan has,” said Davies.
Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed’s F-35 vice president for program integration, said all the world’s great militaries were employing fifth generation capability for future deterrence and security needs.
“Only fifth generation aircraft give you the enhanced flexibility, versatility and the ability to deploy anywhere to meet the challenge of future emerging threats,” O’Bryan said.