Geopolitical tensions crackle in northeast Asia. The recent spat between Japan and China over what Tokyo calls the Senkaku Islands and Beijing the Diaoyu Islands sent tremors through the region.
There is more at stake than a handful of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Whoever controls these islands will enjoy the concomitant territorial rights. But make no mistake: the real issue here is national pride.
In several mainland cities the dispute, which stopped just short of a crisis, saw Japanese-owned businesses vandalised and even Japanese-branded cars destroyed on the streets. Airlines operating between the two countries were forced to reduce capacity.
Events have a way of spiralling out of control. In 1914, who thought a single assassination would spark the First World War? In 1982, who thought the UK would be drawn into a colonial war in the South Atlantic? When tensions are high, mistakes happen - sometimes with terrible consequences. Amid growing Asian nationalism, Tokyo must make tough decisions about the future of the Japan Air Self Defense Force, an indispensable deterrent to conflict.
The cash-strapped nation needs to recognise how impractical and wasteful its lavish indigenous military aircraft programmes are. Funds that would be better spent upgrading JASDF capabilities are squandered on home-grown programmes with little export potential, resulting in indefensibly high unit costs.
On a per-unit basis, the JASDF's Mitsubishi F-2 was viewed as one of the most expensive jet fighters in history. While defenders will state that it is optimised for JASDF service, was it worth the cost of developing what is a Lockheed Martin F-16 in all but name?
Similarly, the four-engined Kawasaki Heavy Industries XP-1 maritime patrol aircraft and C-2 transport aircraft effectively re-invents the wheel. A less expensive MPA option would have been the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, while the role of the C-2 could have been filled by the C-130J. Both of these capable types would have allowed commonality with USAF equipment.
Globally, jobs and national prestige tend to have more influence on defence procurement than military necessity. Many countries seem able to get away with such thinking indefinitely, but Tokyo's volatile neighbourhood demands hard-headed, realistic decisions on how every single yen budgeted for defence is spent. An able indigenous aerospace sector is nice to have, but nothing compared with an air force's deterrent value.