Japan Likely To Delay F-X Order

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By Bradley Perrett

The Japanese Defense Ministry probably will delay its order for fighters under the F-X program until at least the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2011, a move that may lift Lockheed Martin’s chances of winning the competition.

The delay minimizes one of the chief advantages of competitors over the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II — their earlier availability.

By delaying its order the ministry is also giving the U.S. more time to change its mind regarding its ban on exporting Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors.

A deferral also gives the government more time to put an end to the country’s ban on arms exports, which prevents the Japanese industry from taking part in the main production run of whichever aircraft is chosen. An end to the ban is expected (Aerospace DAILY, May 27).

The problem with the delay is that the aircraft that the new fighters would replace, Japan’s remaining McDonnell Douglas F-4EJ Kai Phantoms, must soldier on for longer.

The ministry says that to compensate for the delay the Phantoms will be flown less intensively. That will extend their airframe lives but not prevent them from becoming steadily more obsolete.

Under earlier plans, the ministry proposed to request funding for F-X fighters in the financial year beginning April 1, 2010.

Under the F-X requirement, the ministry wants to buy 50 fighters to take over the Phantoms’ air-to-air role. It really wants the F-22 and will buy that stealth fighter if the U.S. will let Lockheed Martin sell it (Aerospace DAILY, June 4).

Apart from the Lockheed Martin contenders, the country is considering the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-15FX Eagle, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale. The latter is considered a long shot, and its manufacturer appears not to be putting so much effort into the competition as the others are.

A lack of information on the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II is forcing the ministry to spend more time studying the requirement, the Yomiuri Daily says. That focus on the two Lockheed Martin aircraft is a hint that the F-35, now formally recommended to Japan by the U.S. administration, is at least a strong contender, and possibly the favorite if the F-22 remains unavailable.

Photo: Lockheed Martin

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