TOKYO - Japan has chosen the U.S.-made F-35 stealth jet as its next-generation mainstay fighter in a multibillion-dollar deal, reports said Dec. 13.
The Defense Ministry picked the jet made by Lockheed Martin to replace its aging fleet of F-4 jets over two rivals, the Boeing-made F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
Japan's biggest daily said the Defense Ministry had "agreed in principle" to select the F-35, with a formal announcement expected Dec. 16 at the Security Council of Japan, chaired by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Kyodo News cited unnamed government sources as saying the ministry had decided to buy 40 F-35 fighters, while the Nikkei business daily said only that the jet remained a "prime candidate."
Earlier reports said Japan could buy as many as 50 new jets, equipped with stealth technology, with a price tag of more than $6 billion.
A Defense Ministry spokesman on Dec. 13 declined to confirm the reports, saying: "We are still trying to do our best to make a final decision by the end of this year."
And Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura denied the reports that a final decision had been made, Dow Jones Newswires said.
The F-35, the most expensive weapons program in Pentagon history, has been plagued by cost overruns and technical delays.
The jet, co-developed with British defense giant BAE Systems, is the most expensive among the three candidates, with a price tag estimated at $113 million per aircraft.
Japan initially aimed to acquire the F-22 stealth fighter to renew its fleet, but U.S. law prohibits exports of the jet because the U.S. has said it would halt production of the model.