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Japan set to spend billions on air force

Two F-15 fighter planes during the air review at Hyakuri Air Base, north of Tokyo, yesterday. Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces are about to get a major overhaul. Two F-15 fighter planes during the air review at Hyakuri Air Base, north of Tokyo, yesterday. Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces are about to get a major overhaul. (Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press)
By Associated Press
October 17, 2011

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HYAKURI AIR BASE, Japan - Warplanes bearing the bright red Rising Sun logo roared overhead yesterday as Japan held a once-every-three-years display to showcase one of the best air forces in Asia. The only problem - most of its fighters were grounded.

Underscoring Japan’s uphill battle in an increasingly heated race to control the skies over Asia, the air review came just a week after the country’s entire F-15 fleet was ordered into its hangers for safety checks following a midair accident, the second such order in three months.

But in an effort to counterbalance big strides by China and Russia toward deploying new stealthy aircraft, Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces are about to get a multibillion dollar overhaul.

For the review, the F-15s - the workhorse of Japan’s air defenses - were relegated to ground displays. Last weekend, an empty fuel tank burst and detached from a F-15 on a training flight, causing the grounding order. In July, an F-15 flying out of Okinawa crashed into the ocean. The pilot is listed as missing and presumed dead.

But after years of delays and budget battles, Japan is expected to announce by the end of December a new fighter deal that will likely shape Asian air security for decades to come.

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