The Japan Defence Agency (JDA) is to again defer plans to seek funding for a tanker procurement until at least the end of this year, in the face of continued political opposition. In the meantime, it is pushing for funding to upgrade 13 Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye aircraft in the fiscal year 2000 budget.

The JDA says it will miss the end-of-August budget request deadline for the tanker programme, but could still push it into the budget when a final bill is drawn up in December. The delay stems partly from the opposition of key government member, cabinet secretary Hiromu Nonaka, whose objections stem from fears of aggravating China. Further opposition has been voiced by the New Komeito political party, which is joining the ruling coalition.

Critics state that acquiring an air-to-air refuelling capability is a departure from Japan's long-standing policy that the armed forces are purely defensive and that tankers are offensive. Anticipated tests by North Korea of its Taepo Dong 2 surface-to-surface missile, which has a range of 6,000km (3,725 miles), have brought the issue to the fore.

"If a conclusion [on tanker funding] cannot be obtained, it will still be alright to make a decision next year," says JDA chief Hosei Norota. Japan's current mid-term defence plan requires a government decision on the tanker aircraft by the end of March 2001.

The proposed E-2C upgrade is based on the US Navy's Group II Hawkeye upgrade - Japan now has Group 0 E-2Cs. The Group IImission suite includes the Lockheed Martin APS-145, a new mission computer, workstations and the ASN-139 navigation suite.

Source: Flight International