Reviving Japan’s F-22 Raptor hopes?

Washington is tantalisingly holding out the Raptor lollipop to Japan once again, but Tokyo is unlikely to get a lick. According to news reports, the US Senate is exploring the viability of creating an export variant of the Lockheed Martin F-22 stealth fighter (above, arriving in Japan for an exercise).

This comes after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in April that the Pentagon would haltthe production of the F-22 at 187 aircraft, afterordering four more in fiscal 2009 that ends September 30. But several countries, most prominently Japan, are keen on an export variant and Lockheed would like to keep the production line open as well.

The Senate move sounds like great news for Japan, which has long coveted the F-22 for its next generation F-XX programme. But unless it makes a very strong case, and commits hundreds of millions of dollars to finance the development of an export model (which will take years to come up with), it will not get it. Gates has said that the aircraft will not be exported, and it is unlikely that Senate – or Tokyo – will make headway against a man who sticks by his decisions.

So here’s a message to the bureaucrats at Japan’s defence ministry – forget about the F-22. Why spend so much money on a tuned down version of the Raptor – and am I the only one who thinks that an F-22 without its best technology would just be another ordinary fighter – when it would make more sense to go and get something else. The Boeing F-15 Silent Eagle, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon and eventually the Lockheed Martin F-35 – all of those would probably be better buys.

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