Friday, July 31, 2009

Japan hangs on to F-22 fighter hopes

Japan will continue to collect information on the U.S. F-22 fighter jet as a candidate to succeed its aging F-4EJ fighter fleet, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday, despite the U.S. House of Representatives’ decision to ditch funding for the aircraft. Katashi Toyota, press secretary for the ministry, said at a press conference that Tokyo ‘‘does not necessarily give up’’ on its plan to study acquisition of the F-22 fighter as one of six candidate models. The U.S. chamber passed a defense spending bill Thursday that scuttled the F-22 program.Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said earlier in the day that Tokyo should consider ‘‘an alternative plan,’’ but Toyota said his remarks do not indicate that Japan will stop exploring the option of purchasing the F-22. ‘‘We recognize the F-22 as one of the world’s most advanced aircraft and will continue to gather information on it as well as on other candidate models,’’ Toyota said.
Tokyo has been eager to purchase the F-22, among other models, as its next-generation mainstay fighter aircraft in light of the stealth jet’s ability to evade radar detection.But export of the F-22 is currently prohibited under U.S. law, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in April proposed halting production of the fighter jet.Under Gates’ proposal, production of the F-22 would be halted at 187 planes. The Pentagon instead wants to produce 500 of the more modern F-35 aircraft over the next five years and 2,400 over time.The five other models being studied by Japan are the F/A-18 and F-15FX of the United States, the F-35, now being developed by the United States, Britain and others, the Eurofighter, made by a consortium of European manufacturers, and the Rafale of France. Only the F-22 and F-35 are stealth fighters.Japan requested information on the six models from their manufacturers and others in March 2006 and has since obtained some information on all but the F-22. It has delayed selecting a model as the U.S. ban on F-22 exports continues.

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