F-22s to Japan: “No, but…”?

Report: Japan to develop prototype fighter jet

raptor_sm.jpgWe continually deny the ability to export the F-22 Raptor, and Japan is getting tired of trying to get them:

Japan plans to develop a prototype of an advanced fighter jet in the hope it will spur the United States to review a ban on selling F-22 fighters, a news report said Tuesday.

But an official of the Defense Ministry said no decision has been reached.

Japan’s largest daily, The Yomiuri, said the Defense Ministry plans to request a budget for the next year to build the test model of a stealth fighter jet.

We want to keep the F-22’s advanced technology out of anyone else’s hands, even those of close allies. This makes sense in a lot of ways, but not everyone is pleased, as the USA Today reports:

Japan may hold key to F-22’s future, thousands of jobs:

The F-22 program, estimated at $70 billion, is among the largest for Lockheed Martin Corp, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Boeing produces the plane’s wings, fuselage and other component systems. Pratt and Whitney and other contractors are also involved.

But the Air Force’s about-face on how many of the fighters it will buy has put the program in deep jeopardy — after originally saying it would purchase 750 of the planes, the Air Force has cut that number down to 183.

According to a Congressional Research Service report released last month, Lockheed employs 3,351 F-22 workers at plants in Marietta, Ga.; Fort Worth; and Palmdale, Calif.

The report notes that building F-22s for Japan “is one way to keep the F-22 production line running” and adds that, “promoting employment in the aerospace sector is beneficial to the U.S. economy.”

China’s growing military capability may become an important factor in the F-22 story. The increasing size and capability of China’s air force may convince enough decision makers to either build more US F-22s or to sell some to Japan in hopes that the move will not only bolster the alliance between Japan and the US but will provide additional leverage against the Chinese.

Meanwhile, one of the greatest benefits of the high-cost F-22s may be the ‘Plan B’ move of upgrading many older planes with AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radars. I noted the plans to upgrade F/A-18s with APG-79s a while back in Making the Super Hornet a two-fisted fighter and also pointed out that the F-16 Block 60s going to the United Arab Emirates will mount the APG-80 AESA radar.

Honestly, I think this will end up being a no-brainer. The cost of upgrading good planes (F-16, F-15, F-18) with AESA outweigh the cost of buying additional great planes (F-22, F-35). And that’s assuming the great planes are actually all that “great”. The risk will be that the arguments for upgrading older planes with AESA may convince many that an F-15 with AESA is a Raptor replacement. It isn’t Cost-wise it makes sense, but don’t get tricked into thinking that it’s the long-term answer.

F-22’s on point, 15s and 16s doing the dirty work. Eventually, F-35s will displace many of the 15s and 16s, but the AESA option for existing airframes with a lot of life left in them is going to make too much sense to pass up in the short- and mid-term.

I suspect that upgrading Japanese planes similarly will be a compromise that both sides can agree to, and also that Raptors may eventually find their way into the Japanese air force for a number of reasons, some of which may actually have to do with military need.

Also, see David Axe’s recent post on the subject and Raytheon’s fact sheet (.pdf) on the APG-79.


  1. Good for them. I like the idea of having a little friendly competition. It improves the breed. Granted it may kill off the fighter industry here in the US, but if we’re stupid enough to let that happen, we deserve to get our asses kicked.

  2. Fork them over, whoever’s in charge of this. They’re our coolest ally in the north pacific area. Not giving them our coolest jets is an embarrassment. Aren’t we allies? Are we? That said, Britain’s request for annotated software on the F-35 is ALSO an embarrassment. Either they don’t trust us, or they want to steal our technology.

  3. Why ginned up updated old school fighters will in the long run be more costly not in money but US blood. S-300’s being sold to our enemies S-400’s coming online in Russia and probably soon follow into China and beyond SU-30-35’s being sold to everyone from India, China, Iran, Malaysia, Venezueala, Algeria and beyond. To stay a generation ahead may cost in the wallet but it is why we don’t even train foot soldiers for not US having total air dominance. Those F-35’s and F-22’s just like our B-2’s are going to have survival rates way past the updated old school platforms. If we make the mistake of bean counting today at some point in the future we will be having a debate about who’s fault it is that we lost massive numbers of air craft in the first days of X war. Americans since WW2 have traded money for blood to go back to the old ways of WW2 were cheep inferior weapons were sent enmass at extreme cost in blood to win are nothing we should be returning to. Stealth is going to become critical in a future of S-300’s and beyond.

  4. I’ll just chime in with my standard wish. Toss the F-35 into Atlantic – make it the F-5 of our generation and sell it to the allies and keep the VSTOL for the Marines. Take the savings to buy out a full lot of 700 F-22’s and upgrade the F-15/F-16 fleet. In any event, Japan will get the F-22, it will take a few years, but it will happen. To many in Air Force will do anything to keep the program alive.

  5. Yeah James, I think you’re right. They can take the avionics system from the F-35 and update the F-22 with that. F-22 doesn’t have some of what I consider to be very important capabilities that the F-35 has with regard to getting the first look. I think this really puts the F-22 at a disadvantage in a fight against a stealthy adversary. Some disagree with me, but I guess everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. And seriously I don’t see what the big deal is about our allies building their own fighters. It takes us 25 years or more to get one operational. You want the entire free world to hinge on that protracted cycle? I think that’s putting too many eggs in one basket.

  6. Something a friend of mine noted a while back. Back during the development cycle of the F-15 and F-14 Boeing (IIRC) was tinkering with the ‘Super Phantom’ concept, which was basically the old F-4 with canards and better engines. The performance was either just as good or better than the F-15 which is why it never saw the light of day in the US. It would have scuttled the Eagle. They tried selling the idea to the Israelies and got their wrists slapped because the US government didn’t want them to have something that good. The IDF did get some F4s and even uprated a bunch of them to almost the same level as the Super Phantom concept. Slap the updated Avionics and engines of F-22 and the thrust vectoring and canards from the experimental F-15 ‘Agility’ prototype that NASA was playing with back in the 80’s on the Eagles in inventory and the only thing that they won’t have over the F-22 is stealth, which is, in my opinion, a dubious advantage to begin with. But hey, what do I know? I thought the YF-23 was a better plane than the 22. Guess the Airforce knows more than I do…

  7. Interesting bit about the F-4 with a canard. It’s ironic because I believe adding a canard to the F-16 would do pretty much the same thing to the F-35, kill it. Canards make a big improvement on how a fighter airplane works. I don’t understand why the US Air Force is so dead set against them. Since the ’80s the line has been that they compromise frontal stealth, which is not accurate. They do provide more edges that can be seen by the front aspect, but they do not ‘compromise’ the frontal stealth. But the stealth argument seems to be of variable worth too, since the YF-23 was clearly more stealthy than the F-22 and had stealth in the IR range. It might have actually been useful in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. Too much politics and not enough science.