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Japan is the latest F-35 customer

It's official, the Japanese Air Self Defense Force is the world's latest F-35 Joint Strike Fighter customer, buying four F-35As starting in 2012. That purchase will kick off Japan's effort to buy two squadrons worth of the jets to replace ancient F-4 Phantoms.

The decision was announced at noon on Dec. 20 in Japan (10:00 PM EST on Dec. 19) and comes a week after news reports emerged from Tokyo claiming that the JSF was all but guaranteed to win the F-X contest.

The victory is a major shot in the arm for the F-35,which has been under renewed scrutiny lately due to reports of new problems in the airframe and calls for a slowed production schedule despite a what had been a largely positive year of flight testing.

Here's Lockheed's announcement of its latest victory that came out just minutes ago:

The Japan Ministry of Defense has announced its selection of the Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] F-35 Lightning II as the Japan Air Self Defense Force’s (JASDF) next generation fighter aircraft, following the F-X competitive bid process. The F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant (CTOL) was offered by the United States government with participation from Lockheed Martin. The initial contract will be for four jets in Japan Fiscal Year 2012, which begins April 1, 2012.   “We are honored by the confidence the Japanese government has placed in the F-35 and our industry team to deliver this 5th Generation fighter to the Japan Air Self Defense Force,” said Bob Stevens, Lockheed Martin chairman and chief executive officer. “This announcement begins a new chapter in our long-standing partnership with Japanese industry and builds on the strong security cooperation between the U.S. and Japan.”   Global participation is a centerpiece of the F-35 program and essential for its success and affordability through economies of scale. The program is comprised of nine partner nations: the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. The United Kingdom and Netherlands have ordered test aircraft, and Italy and Australia have committed long-lead funding for their initial operational aircraft.  In October 2010, Israel selected the F-35A as the Israel Air Force’s next generation fighter and is scheduled to receive the F-35 through the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales process.
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