• A JASDF F-35A at RAAF Tindal in 2023. 

Credit: Defence
    A JASDF F-35A at RAAF Tindal in 2023. Credit: Defence

The main US allies in the Indo-Pacific continue to build up their stocks of missiles, with Japan having another request to buy more air-to-air missiles cleared by the US State Department.

The US Defense Security and Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced on 15 December that the State Department has approved Japan’s requests to buy 44 AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder and 120 AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), along with associated spares and technical support.

Both requests will come under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programs and are estimated to be worth $59 and $224 million (A$87.2 and A$331.3 million) respectively.

Japan will likely use these missiles to equip its fleet of Lockheed-Martin F-35A and B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters. The country will become the largest non-US operator of the F-35, with 147 of the 5th generation stealth fighters on order.

This request is the latest in a series of approvals by the US for Japan and South Korea for missiles over the past two months. Japan was cleared to purchase 63 RIM-116 Block 2B Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) in late October and a further 200 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles in November.

Across the Sea of Japan/East Sea, South Korea has also had several requests to buy air- and missile-defence weapons approved recently, with ship-launched SM-6 missiles on its wish-list, along with the air-to-air AIM-9X and AIM-120.

This is likely a recognition by both countries that any potential large-scale conflict in the region would involve heavy use of cruise and ballistic missiles by their potential adversaries, with a key lesson from the Russian invasion of Ukraine being that facing down such a missile campaign would quickly deplete a nation’s missile stockpiles.

Both Japan and South Korea have been wary of China’s dramatic military transformation and its increasingly belligerent behaviour in the Indo-Pacific, along with North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs in defiance of ongoing United Nations sanctions.

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