Japan’s 42 F-35s would join an air force of more than 350 fighter aircraft, some old even by fourth generation standards.
Assuming it places an order, South Korea’s 60 would replace ageing types in an air force of more than 460 fighter bombers, while Singapore’s handful would spearhead a force of around 148 aircraft, many of them later model F-15s and F-16s. Singapore is likely to buy additional batches of F-35s in the coming years, eventually building its fleet up to as many as 75, according to U.S. government and industry sources.
Even if all four countries opt for the plane in numbers expected by Lockheed, the F-35 will still only account for roughly one in 10 frontline aircraft in Asia, although in Australia it would be one in two.
Former U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, a strong supporter of the F-35, is encouraging the U.S. air force to rapidly deploy its early F-35s to U.S. bases in the region, networking them with F-22s and other warplanes to send a powerful message to China and North Korea.
Chinese military planners have already gotten the message about air power, having studied the way the United States and its Western allies crushed opponents in the Balkans and the Middle East.
In these conflicts, coordinated air and missile strikes on air defence systems, communications and air-bases allowed the United States to control the skies, leaving their adversaries blind and virtually defenceless.
The PLA has set out to ensure it would not suffer this fate, military experts said.
CHINA BUILDING UP AIR DEFENCES
Underpinning its defences, China has built a hardened, integrated air defence system bristling with batteries of Russian-made and locally produced surface-to-air missiles.