The already dubious world of international fighter sales has made some geo-political somersaults this week.
Most significant are reports from Russia and Israel that China is selling 24 J-10 fighters to Iran. This comes after months of speculation that Iran was negotiating a whopper deal to buy 250 Su-30s from Russia. The term “Iranian air defense” suddenly doesn’t sound so silly anymore.
Still interesting, but of lesser strategic value, are reports that Korea has decided to skip over a second batch of F-15s in favor of buying a fifth-generation fighter, presumably such as F-22 or F-35. If I read the Pacific Rim geo-political tea leaves correctly, this means Japan and China now must get their hands on a fifth-generation fighter, too. Memo to Tokyo’s arms buyers: beers are on Lockheed Martin’s tab for the next five years.
From the can-you-believe-it file, France has somehow found a way to lose a gimme contract for Rafale fighters from Morocco, which has reportedly decided to buy the Lockheed Martin F-16. The deal may help to console Lockheed executives who last week lost Thailand as a loyal fighter customer to Sweden’s Gripen.
Finally, you can read my story next week in Flight International about the US Air Force’s new proposal to keep the F-22 production line alive for at least one more year. The implications for the F-35 budget in 2010 could be profound.
That’s one heck of a week in the fighter business.