Japan Defence Agency (JDA) planners are weighing up options to defer development of a replacement maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to focus its increasingly tight financial resources on acquiring a combined inflight refuelling tanker and transport jet.

Local defence sources in Tokyo say that the JDA is leaning towards combining the Japan Air Self-Defence Force's (JASDF) requirements for a tanker and new C-X transport. This, along with the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force's (JMSDF) need to find funding for more Aegis-equipped destroyers, threatens to delay replacement of its Kawasaki-built Lockheed P-3C Orions.

Japan's aerospace industry had been promoting an indigenous MPA design, which it argues could be combined with elements of the JASDF's C-X to save money. The JDA had originally planned to launch development of a P-3 successor in 2000 and signed an agreement last year to form a joint technical review committee with the US Navy.

In 1997 Kawasaki delivered the last of 101 licence-built P-3Cs and is in urgent need of a large follow-on programme to sustain fixed wing aircraft activities at its Gifu plant. In lieu of the MPA, the company is left to survive on a diet of future P-3C upgrades, possible tanker/transport fitting out and subcontracting.

The JASDF wants priority to be given to acquiring a tanker and the replacement of its 30 year old Kawasaki C-1 transports. Compared to the JMSDF's projected requirement for 80 MPAs, a combined tanker/C-X programme represents fewer aircraft numbers and favours an off-the-shelf purchase.

Japan's preferred choice appears to be Boeing's proposed tanker/ transport derivative of the 767, which offers platform commonality with four newly delivered 767 airborne early warning aircraft. Other proposed solutions include the Airbus A310, Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130J.

The JDA is expected to conclude its ongoing tanker study by October and is hoping to secure an initial procurement budget in fiscal year 1999/2000, although this could be delayed.

Source: Flight International