July 28, 2010:
Unable to buy the American F-22, and wary of the continuing delays (and rising costs) of the F-35 program, Japan has decided to buy another 50 locally made F-2s. This is a Japanese F-16 variant, with a 25 percent larger wing area and better electronics. The 22 ton F-2 carries nearly nine tons of bombs, has a top speed of 2,100 kilometers an hour, and a combat radius of 1,000 kilometers. This plane is twice as expensive (at $110 each) as the F-16, and part of that is due to the better electronics (like an AESA radar) but mostly this is due to higher production costs in Japan. The F-2 has been in service since 2000 and 98 have been built so far.
The F-2 pilots are well trained, although it wasnt until three years ago that an F-2 was able to drop live bombs. This was because Japan has no training facility in its own territory for live bombings. Thus it's only when Japanese warplanes are flown to foreign training areas, that they can they practice using real bombs. For this practice bombing, the Japanese F-2 aircraft flew to an American air base in Guam, in the Central Pacific.
This Japanese policy is nothing new. In the last sixty years, there have been only three times where Japanese warplanes dropped live munitions. The rest of the time, they practice with inert munitions, and simulated (by computer) bombs. Japanese aircraft have not been in combat since World War II, so there's no way of knowing if their training practices have had an adverse effect on combat effectiveness.
Japan is concerned with the growing belligerence of China and North Korea, plus a simmering territorial dispute with Russia. So more warplanes are needed, just in case.