This picture shows the first F-35A stealth fighter assembled in Japan, unveiled at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries factory in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture. Photo: AFP

Japan reportedly plans to buy at least 20 more US F-35A stealth fighters over the next six years than previously announced.

Some, if not all of the aircraft, may be bought directly from Lockheed Martin Corp. in the US as opposed to being assembled locally, according to three sources quoted by Reuters.

The Japanese government is acquiring the F-35A as an air superiority fighter to counter Chinese and North Korean warplanes. The purchase will supplement an earlier Japanese order for 42 F-35As, the majority of which are being put together at a “final assembly and check out” facility in Japan run by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the country’s biggest defense contractor.

“In view of budgets and production schedules a new acquisition of around 25 planes is appropriate,” said one of the sources with knowledge of the plan. Reuters said the sources asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak to the media.

The sources said buying ready-made F-35As, at about US$100 million (11 billion yen) each, will save Tokyo about US$30 million per airframe.

The F-35A is the conventional takeoff and landing model of the single-seat multirole US fighter. Japan is also expected to buy the F-35B, the maritime vertical takeoff version of the plane for possible deployment at island bases, commercial airports and aboard helicopter “destroyers.”

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