Japan could order an interim batch of 20-30 Boeing F-15s or Eurofighter Typhoons if it fails to get access to its first choices: the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Acquiring the $200 million F-22 remains Tokyo's priority, but industry sources say it may not be given access to the aircraft in time for a request for proposals to be released from later this year. US Congress has banned the export of the F-22 and may not change its stance in time for the competition to replace Japan's McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms.

"Ideally, Japan would like to buy around 50 F-22s for delivery from 2010," says a source close to the defence ministry. "The replacement of the F-4s cannot be delayed too long, and new F-15s or the Typhoon are the best option until Japan gets access to the F-22 or F-35." Other aircraft that could be included in the RFP are the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Dassault Rafale, although the F-15 is considered a likely favourite as the type is already in Japanese service.

The USA could provide information on the F-35 in time for inclusion in the RFP, but the aircraft's delivery schedule is an obstacle, with the first examples to be available to Japan only around 2014. Sources expect Tokyo to issue the RFP between September and early next year, with a contract to potentially be signed by early 2009.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and defence minister Fumio Kyuma have both raised the issue of releasing information on the F-22 during recent visits to the USA and the Japanese and US air forces conducted a joint exercise last month involving their F-4s and F-15s and the F-22. The US Air Force has deployed a squadron of F-22s at Kadena AB in Okinawa since February.

Source: Flight International