Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera gives a speech in a ceremony marking the deployment of the F-35A stealth fighter jet at the Air Self-Defense Force's Misawa Air Base in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, on Feb. 24. (Video by Teruto Unuma)

MISAWA, Aomori Prefecture--Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera praised the deployment of the F-35A stealth fighter jet at the Self-Defense Forces’ Misawa Air Base here on Feb. 24, citing the need for Japan to respond to growing threats by China and Russia.

“It is extremely significant to deploy the F-35A at a time when neighboring countries are rapidly modernizing and reinforcing the capabilities of their air forces,” Onodera said at a ceremony commemorating the deployment. “Equipped with high stealth features, the F-35A is among the most advanced in the world.”

Japanese and U.S. government officials attended the event held at the Air SDF’s base.

The F-35A, made by U.S. defense equipment maker Lockheed Martin Corp., is a fifth-generation stealth fighter believed to be largely undetectable by enemy radar.

China and Russia are also set to introduce aircraft with similar capabilities, the Chengdu J-20 and the Sukhoi Su-57, respectively.

Japan is expected to deploy a total of 42 F-35A aircraft in stages, starting from fiscal 2018, as the successor of the aging F-4.

The first of the F-35As was handed over to Misawa Air Base late last month.

But the deployment comes with a huge price tag.

The cost of introducing an F-35A jumped to 14.7 billion yen ($137 million) in fiscal 2017 from 9.6 billion yen in fiscal 2012.

The Defense Ministry attributed the surge to the weaker yen.

But many defense analysts blame the soaring costs to Japan's procurement of the aircraft from the U.S. government, which is known as Foreign Military Sales (FMS).

As FMS are considered U.S. defense assistance to its allies, buyers tend to pay the asking price, compared with direct purchasing from defense equipment manufacturers.

“As the F-35A is aircraft loaded with sensitive features, it is difficult to verify whether the cost is reasonable,” said a senior Defense Ministry official. “It is true that we tend to accept the U.S. asking price.”