Japan's T-7 decision saves Fuji's day

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Andrew Mollett/TOKYO

The Japanese Government has thrown Fuji Heavy Industries' beleaguered aerospace division a lifeline with its decision to choose a modified version of the company's T-3 as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force's (JASDF) next generation basic trainer. Neither the Japanese Defence Agency (JDA) nor Fuji will disclose the value of the order, to be officially confirmed later this month.

The first two aircraft will be delivered in 2000, with a further 48 scheduled to be shipped over the following decade.

A senior Fuji source says, however, that national budgetary constraints might mean that no more than 45 aircraft will be ordered eventually. He admits, nevertheless, that the contract "-will go a long way to ensuring our survival in the sector".

The decision to award the contract to Fuji, which is fast running out of military work, has come under fire from the other shortlisted contender, Pilatus. The Swiss company says that it is surprised that Fuji has managed to slash the cost from an initial price tag of ´400 million ($2.8 million) per aircraft to a final offering of ´250 million - a slightly lower price than that tendered for the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II Turbo Trainer.

A Pilatus source says that the company will be applying maximum pressure on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in an attempt to get the decision modified.

Fuji's tandem-seat T-7 is an updated version of the existing T-3 Kai, powered by a new 298 kW Allison 250 turboprop. The aircraft also has some external modifications, including to the cowling, tail and wing sections.

A prototype has already been test flown and has received its airworthiness certificate, however. JDA, test flights on the actual new build T-7 will only begin once the delivery contract has been signed, "some time next year".

Meanwhile, the Japan Defence Agency has formalised its budgetary request for fiscal year 1999. It asks for 28 aircraft for the JASDF, valued at ´174 billion and made up of eight Mitsubishi F-2 fighters, two Mitsubishi/Boeing CH-47J heavylift helicopters, two Raytheon U-125A search and rescue aircraft, two Mitsubishi/Sikorsky UH-60J utility helicopters, 12 Kawasaki T-4 jet trainers and two Fuji T-7 trainers.

The ´62 billion request for the Maritime Self-Defence Force includes 10 SH-60Js, one Shinmaywa US-1A amphibian and three Raytheon TC-90s, while the Y´42 billion request for the Ground Self-Defence Force comprises four Kawasaki OH-1s, three UH-60JAs, five Fuji UH-1Js, two CH-47JAs and two Raytheon LR-2s.