Japanese F-22 Campaign Lives On

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David A. Fulghum davef@aviationweek.com

Japanese defense officials have not given up on buying the F-22, as both Japanese and U.S. operational specialists note that the advanced fighter and cruise missile threats from China are growing.

Moreover, they expect future diplomatic conflict perhaps armed clashes over unpopulated islands west of Japan to increase as various countries in the region argue about conflicting claims to oil and gas development.

The long distances involved and the lack of runways to the west and south of Japan create a unique operational need that the Japanese Air Self Defense Force can only partially fulfill. It has modern KC-767 tankers and E-767 AWACS to patrol its islands, but not the fighter aircraft with the speed, altitude, stealth, precision attack and small-target radars that would allow them to move quickly across the great ocean expanses between Japan and China. The small target capability would allow for a cruise missile defense and precision target would allow a defense if its islands were occupied by foreign forces. Japanese officials say that they are constitutionally prevented from increasing force structure, therefore they must have higher performance aircraft.

Japan's F-X program is aimed at buying 20-60 high performance F-22-like aircraft. The follow-on F-XX effort is being written to an F-35-like requirement for many more aircraft. Both programs will replace existing aircraft.

The problem continues to be a U.S. congressional ban against selling the F-22 to foreign countries favored by the House Appropriations Committee's chairman, Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.). But rumors persist - despite denials from Lockheed Martin that it will do any more lobbying for sales to the U.S. Air Force or foreign nations - that some congressional committees will push legislative language ordering USAF officials to look at the cost and production issues associated with building an exportable version of the F-22.

U.S. aerospace industry officials say this kind of uncertainty on foreign sales and the undefined schedule for a shutdown of the F-22 production line has created massive confusion over what all these various options would cost.

"Options have been bandied about for years," said an industry official with insight into the program. The ban on sales "can be changed by Congress. But right now nobody knows if the multiyear contract for 60 more F-22s is in effect, if there's only going to be a purchase of four more aircraft since the GWOT supplemental is not firm. And Lockheed Martin doesn't know if it's going to be a hot or a warm shutdown."

A senior U.S. Air Force official says a closed session last week with the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norman Schwartz, was extremely negative.

"There is no plan to go beyond 187 F-22s," he says. "The Air Force will not oppose Gates and it remains under a gag-order even with regard to Congress."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has testified last month that the so-called gag order instituted during budget-making earlier this year was fully lifted when President Barack Obama unveiled his Fiscal 2010 request, and that military officers are free to offer Congress their opinions.

The senior USAF source told Aviation Week that F-22 shutdown would cost $400 million at least, probably more. Congress could keep it going on a year by year basis, but except for the Georgian delegation, there is no political advantage to supporting further production. "I don't think additional F-22 production will pass through Congress and survive conference in a final bill," the official said.

A recent Rand study said that depending on the shutdown option, costs could range from $250 million to $550 million. Those studying the issue say that the 2009 defense authorization act, section 815, says the Pentagon cannot conduct a cold shutdown and "break tooling." Doing so also could trigger something akin to the litigation that continues over then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's shutdown of the Navy's A-12 stealth fighter program. An appellate decision this week in that case in favor of the government touched off another round of court fighting, with Boeing and General Dynamics committing to further appealing the 18-year-old dispute.

For the F-22, Lockheed and the Pentagon have not yet started negotiating how to shut down the line.

"Finally, there's no move afoot to sell F-22s to Japan," the USAF official says. "Gates and the Defense Department are pushing F-35. But there are 12 F-22s from Langley AFB [Va.] in Okinawa [Japan] right now working with the JASDF. If the Japanese want F-22, they're going to have to make the argument themselves."

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