Saturday, October 3, 2009

Japan’s F-X Competition Stalled; Tokyo Still Dreams Of Buying Raptors

Defense News


Japan’s F-X Competition Stalled; Tokyo Still Dreams Of Buying Raptors


TAIPEI — Perhaps one of the longest-awaited competitions in Asia is the Japanese Air Self-De­fense Force’s (JASDF) new F­X multirole fifth-generation fighter program, which could cost the country as much as $10 billion if it secures F-22 Raptors.

Japan has a requirement for 40 to 60 fighters to replace aging F-4s. Its leading choice is the F-22 Raptor, followed by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Eurofighter Typhoon and a possible indigenous design. A de­cision was originally expected in mid-2007, with first delivery target­ed for 2012, but sources in Tokyo say the timeline has been delayed for at least two years due to budg­etary constraints, political wran­gling and recent scandals.

“Looks like they’ve punted off two to three years,” said a U.S. de­fense analyst based in Tokyo. “They’re trying to get their act to­gether and see if the F-22 might be available in the future. The excori­ation they’ve gotten over the Yama­da Yoko incident [involving a De­fense Ministry bribery scandal] has­n’t helped at all. The procurement guys are examining every Yamada Yoko contract they can, which means for the past seven years or so, and the paperwork is huge.” No one is talking in the Ministry of Defense (MoD). When contact­ed, the MoD press office in Tokyo was unable to comment on the sta­tus of the fighter program.

Christopher Hughes, author of “Japan’s Re-emergence as a ‘Nor­mal’ Military Power,” who visited Tokyo recently, confirmed the sen­sitivity of the subject. “Everyone was very tight-lipped about Japan’s decision on its F-X,” he said.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has been researching the de­velopment of an indigenous F-X op­tion, but sources said Japan will not be able to afford an expensive, time ­consuming development program.

“It has made some noise about producing its own indigenous F­X stealth fighter, and you can see MHI mock-ups [looking very much like the F-22] in various military jour­nals in Japan,” Hughes said. “How­ ever, the indigenous development route is probably financially im­possible for Japan, and there may be an element of trying to entice the U.S., and possibly a new com­bined Democratic presidency and Congress, into rethinking the F-22 option for fear of losing military­ technological linkages with Japan.” Hughes does not believe Japan will opt for an entirely indigenous fighter program, arguing Japan “simply lacks the technology, the experience of system integration, and the risks are just too high in terms of finance and getting some­thing that is combat-effective.” U.S. legal restrictions and high costs make the F-22 a difficult plat­form for Tokyo to secure.

In 1997, the U.S. Congress, led by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., author­ized a ban on overseas sales of the F-22. The ban was designed to prevent F-22 technology from end­ing up in the hands of hostile na­tions. Despite the ban, Japan hopes the F-22 will become avail­able, a suggestion that Washington has repeatedly killed.

“Japan’s primal desire is to pur­chase the F-22, but regarding the budgetary constraint, we must say that the actual purchase is hard to realize,” said Naoki Akiyama, di­rector of the Tokyo-based Con­gressional National Security Re­search Group. “And combined with the issue over the production line, Japan is likely to weather this situation by upgrading the F-15. But eventually, Japan is willing to take part in the joint development of the F-35.” Akiyama pointed out that even if the F-22 was available, Japan’s de­fense laws might restrict the pur­chase of a “pre-emptive strike” platform. However, the F-35, with the possibility of co-production for Japanese industry, would be a bet­ter, cheaper option at roughly $2 billion for 40 aircraft. A single F-22 costs more than $200 million.