A "sanitised" aircraft design should be approved by year-end to sell the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to countries outside the original international partnership. The non-partner international variant is being approved ahead of expected Foreign Military Sales orders from Israel and Singapore, and as a new export campaign ramps up to target Japan.

The JSF joint programme office has forwarded its recommended design to each of the three US armed services buying the F-35 and final approvals from within the Office of the Secretary of Defense are expected "well before the end of the year", says Jon Schreiber, the US director of JSF international programmes.

Programme officials have also since mid-June received authorisation from US export control officials to release design studies to Israel that include the integration of unique weapon systems, Schreiber says. Israel has requested integrating its own air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons with the JSF, and "they will be able to do their own gap analysis", he says.

The Netherlands and the UK are set to become the first international buyers for the F-35 next year, with Italy to follow in 2009. All three countries are to buy one or two aircraft during low-rate initial production to participate in the operational testing phase.

Meanwhile, the US government has decided to offer the F-35 instead of the Lockheed F-22 as an option to meet Japan's F-X fighter requirement. Boeing is expected to offer the F-15E or F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, with the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon also to be offered.

Source: Flight International