Japan could delay selecting the winner of its F-X replacement programme by up to two years because of funding issues, increasing the chances of Lockheed Martin'sF-22 Raptor or the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the competition.

"Officials from the JDA [Japan Defense Agency] have been saying recently that they are worried about the cost of US troop realignment in Japan. Although nothing has been confirmed yet, funds for the F-X programme could be diverted if they decide that troop realignment is their priority," says an industry official.

The JDA sent a letter to France, the UK and the USA in April asking for information on new fighters as replacements for its 91 Mitsubishi/McDonnell Douglas F-4EJ Kais, which will be phased out from 2010. A selection had been expected around mid-2007, with first delivery targeted for around 2012. That timeline, however, could now be delayed by two years - possibly to the detriment of early favourite Boeing.

The US manufacturer, which is offering the F-15FX and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, would have been able to meet the first deadline and its fighters could be easily assembled in Japan. Lockheed's F-22, on the other hand, has yet to secure export approval from the US Congress and the JSF deliveries - scheduled for 2012-13 at the earliest - were not possible within Tokyo's limited timeframe. A delay, however, could change that.

"If we push the time line back by two years, it is possible that Congress would give approval for the F-22's export and the JSF would fall into the delivery schedule. Boeing would then have a tougher time convincing Japan, especially since the JDF would want to purchase the latest fighters - which are the Lockheed aircraft," says the source.

While the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon are also in the fray, they would have a much harder time as they have to convince Tokyo of the merits of acquiring a European fighter for the first time.

"The fact remains that Japan's military tactics, operations and maintenance is linked very closely to the USA. That makes the chances of a European bid succeeding very unlikely," adds the source.

© Lockheed Martin   

The F-22 Raptor has yet to secure export approval from the US Congress


Source: Flight International