Monday, April 23, 2007

Japan Wants The Fighters US Refused To Sell Canberra

The Japanese Government wants Washington to overturn an export ban on the F-22A Raptor so the most advanced stealth fighter aircraft in service can be considered for Tokyo's next-generation military aircraft procurement. The US refused to consider selling the F-22 to Australia, its other closest Pacific ally, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to raise the matter when he meets President George W.Bush in the White House on Friday. Japan's Defence Minister, Fumio Kyuma, will ask his opposite number, Robert Gates, for access to F-22 performance data, transfer of which is also forbidden by US law, when they meet next weekend. Japanese acquisition of F22As, which came into service in December as the first so-called fifth-generation fighter, could have major implications for the strategic balance in northeast Asia, affecting issues such as Taiwan and North Korea, which vitally concern China. For that reason, according to The Washington Times, those officials within the Bush administration who favour China engagement are struggling to head off anti-China staffers pushing Japan's case for buying the aircraft. The newspaper, a favoured outlet for neo-conservative China-containers, quoted one US official saying: "One hundred F-22s in hands of Japan could change the Taiwan balance of power for two decades."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President George W. Bush
The Chinese are believed to be working on their own fifth-generation fighters, which could be in service about 2009, when Japan wants to have completed the replacement of its aged F-4Phantom fleet. At this stage, Tokyo is looking at acquiring only seven aircraft and though defence planners are studying other types, they have made it clear to thePentagon they really want the F-22. A Raptor squadron is on a three-month deployment at the US air force's Kadena airbase, on Japan's southern territory of Okinawa, the first F-22s to operate abroad. Raptor manufacturer Lockheed Martin and its congressional supporters hope that permitting sales to designated US allies -- Israel is also seeking to buy F-22s -- would prevent further attempts to restrict or curtail the enormously expensive and over-budget Raptor program. The House of Representatives voted last year to overturn the 1998 law prohibiting foreign sales, which was principally aimed at preventing advanced weapons technology leaking to China, but the bill has yet to be considered by a Senate committee. Given its refusal to consider Australian sales, the Bush White House is likely to prefer that Japan joins the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program with Australia and eight other countries. The F-35, also a stealth fighter, has been characterised as a more affordable "kid brother" to the Raptor. It is not yet in production and its price estimate is $40million to $60million per aircraft, compared with $135 million for the F-22.
F-22A Raptor
Defence Minister Brendan Nelson claimed Canberra would not have opted for the F-22 anyway, because it lacked the operational flexibility of the F-35. However, the Japanese are attracted by the Raptor's missile-fighting capabilities, including the capability to track and kill small cruise missiles in flight. While Japan is building a ballistic missile defence system with the Americans, it has no independent capability to ward off cruise missiles, of which the Chinese and North Koreans have thousands. The Japanese also argue their constitutional and legislative restrictions on arms exports and defence co-operation prevents them from engaging in a joint weapons development program such as the JSF project. However, the Abe Government has various problems to overcome in Washington before it could buy Raptors. The 1998 law was introduced by congressional Democrats, who won control of both houses in November, and there is more anxiety about Japan in that party than among Republicans. Japan's case has another potential weak spot -- military internal security. US officials here were astonished recently to learn that classified details of the Aegis destroyer-borne anti-missile radar system had been found on the home computer of a Marine Self Defence Force junior officer who is married to a Chinese national. The MSDF is introducing Aegis destroyers to operate alongside US navy vessels as part of the western Pacific BMD shield. The same material, apparently accidentally downloaded with pornography, was found on the computers of two other sailors, also without clearances to handle Aegis information. The Japanese Defence Ministry has refused to comment on the case while it is under investigation. There have also been cases of sensitive military information becoming available on the internet because JSDF personnel were using Winny, a notoriously insecure file-sharing network developed in Japan.