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Boeing eyes long-term prospects in Japan’s tough defence market

Boeing sees long-term opportunities for new aircraft and upgrade programmes in Japan, but cautions that budgetary issues will remain a fundamental challenge.

One potential area is with tankers, says Jim Armington, Boeing Defense, Space & Security vice-president business development Japan. He says Tokyo's four KC-767s are a "critical asset" that is "stretched thin".

While Tokyo has issued no formal requirement for additional tankers, Armington says there could be potential to offer the KC-46 that Boeing is developing for the US Air Force. Any requirement could amount to four to eight aircraft, he adds.

While Japan's force of Boeing F-15s is already undergoing incremental upgrades, there could be scope for substantial additional improvements to the aircraft's sensors, avionics and weapons. One potential upgrade could involve strengthening the fighter's wings, allowing four additional air-to-air missiles to be carried.

Armington, a former US Air Force F-15 pilot, says the addition of 50% more missiles would greatly enhance the combat endurance of Japan's aircraft, and be especially useful against potential cruise missile threats. However, he notes that while Boeing has informed the Japanese government of possible upgrade options, it is still only in the "marketing phase".

"We're telling them what we can do and what we've done in other parts of the world," he says.

Long-term possibilities also exist for Boeing's 737-based airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) system aircraft, with Armington noting that Tokyo is giving command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs a high priority.

Tokyo's fourth 767-based AEW&C aircraft will complete radar upgrades by the end of the year, which will bring the air force's fleet up to date with USAF and NATO standards. The work improves the range and discrimination capabilities of the aircraft's radar, and also makes it harder to jam.

There may also be potential to sell Japan UAVs. At the Farnborough air show in July, Boeing unit Insitu announced Tokyo was buying two ScanEagles for land-based maritime missions. Armington says the aircraft will be used for operational evaluations, which could eventually lead to subsequent orders.

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