Japan is making a final push to buy the Lockheed Martin F-22 from the USA, and its defence minister has confirmed that Tokyo will consider alternatives including non-US fighters if the attempt fails.
"We are still seeking the possibility of acquiring the F-22, but if that does not work out, we will have to consider not just the [Lockheed] F-35, but others as options," Yasukazu Hamada told the Kyodo News Agency. "As of today, we still want to seek the F-22."
Within Washington, there are fresh calls to sell a fighter that Congress has barred from export due to its classified technology. US senator Daniel Inouye, who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee, supports a sale to Japan, the USA's closest military ally in east Asia.
In a recent letter to the Japanese ambassador, Inouye reportedly revealed that an export version of the F-22, which will come without the most sensitive technology, could cost $250 million. This includes the cost of developing an export model, something that would take up to five years. Deliveries would begin seven to nine years after a contract is signed, according to the US Air Force estimate.
Japan has said that it wants to buy 50 fighters as part of its F-X requirement to replace its McDonnell Douglas F-4s, and the total bill for a Raptor acquisition could total $12.5 billion. Some observers, however, believe that Tokyo could go for fewer aircraft if it buys the F-22.
The unit cost would be much higher than the $150 million that the USAF paid for each aircraft in its last batch of four F-22s. US defence secretary Robert Gates said in April that the Department of Defense would halt production of the Raptor at 187 aircraft after ordering four more in fiscal year 2009.
Observers say that an export deal would allow Lockheed to keep its production line open and give Washington the option of buying additional F-22s in the future if it changes its mind.
Gates, however, opposes the sale and believes that Japan should instead consider the F-35, which has less stealth capability. The Pentagon, reiterating that US laws do not allow F-22 exports, adds: "That's why the secretary made the further point to his Japanese counterpart that the F-35 is the plane which we are pursuing and the plane that we would recommend the Japanese focus their efforts in terms of procuring in the future."
Apart from the F-22 and F-35, Tokyo has also asked for information on Boeing's F-15SE and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and the Eurofighter Typhoon as part of its F-X process. It could choose one of these as an interim solution in the event of delays to the Joint Strike Fighter.