Conditions could be lifted as Washington looks to help ally and keep F-22 in production

Japan is asking the USA to ease restrictions on the export of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, and to provide information on it and the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as part of its search for a new generation of multi-role combat aircraft.

Sources in Tokyo say that prime minister Shinzo Abe raised the issue in meetings with US president George Bush in Washington DC last week, and Japanese defence minister Fumio Kyuma will bring it up when he meets defence secretary Robert Gates on 30 April.

This is sought as part of a replacement exercise for Japan's ageing McDonnell Douglas F-4 fleet. Industry sources, however, say that while Washington could release information pertaining to the F-35 in the next few months, it could take a little longer over the F-22.

The US Congress has imposed restrictions on the export of the F-22 due to its highly sensitive equipment, although this could be reviewed as Washington looks to help a close ally and Lockheed seeks to keep the fighter's production line open. Japan is also one of the few nations that could afford the $200 million F-22.

A review of Japan's pacifist constitution could also help Tokyo's case. Current interpretations of the post-Second World War constitution forbid such a role, with the country's military only allowed to exercise self-defence. A change could help convince the USA that Japan, which along with Australia is its closest ally in the Asia Pacific region, should get access to top-notch military hardware such as the F-22.

Whether Congress eases restrictions on the Raptor in time, however, is in doubt. Japan would ideally like enough information on both aircraft to include them in a request for proposals by the end of 2007. It plans to award a contract by the end of 2008 and start taking delivery of the new fighters in the 2009 fiscal year. It is also likely to seek information on Boeing's F-15 and F/A-18, the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

F-22 Raptor
US Air Force 
Japan is one of the few nations likely to be able to afford the F-22 Raptor

Source: Flight International