Japan’s F-X Competition Stalled; Tokyo Still Dreams Of Buying Raptors
By WENDELL MINNICK
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.