Japan’s Next F-X Fighters: F-35 Wins Round 1
In December 2011, Japan picked Lockheed Martin’s new F-35A stealth fighter as its next fighter aircraft, to replace its aging F-4 “Kai” Phantom fleet. The F-35 was actually their 2nd choice.
Back in February 2006, Inside The Air Force (ITAF) reported that momentum was building within the USAF to sell the ultra-advanced F-22A Raptor abroad to trusted US allies, as a way of increasing numbers and production. Japan clearly wanted them, and the Raptor was a topic of diplomatic discussions in several venues, including a 2007 summit meeting. In the end, however, US politics denied export permission for downgraded export variants of the F-22, and its production line was terminated. That left Japan looking at other foreign “F-X” fighter options in the short term, while they considered a domestic stealth fighter design as their long-term project.
In the ensuing F-X competition, the F-35 Lightning II beat BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as an upgraded F/A-18E Super Hornet from Boeing. Now Lockheed Martin has to deliver, and so will its Japanese partners. Will the F-35A’s price and program delays create problems in Japan? This article looks at the JASDF’s current force, its future options, and ongoing F-X developments.
The JASDF: Structure & Choices
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) currently has 3 fighter jet models in its fleet: F-15J/F-15DJ Eagles, its F-4EJ “Kai” and RF-4EJ reconnaissance Phantom IIs, and the Mitsubishi F-2 – a larger, longer-range variant on the F-16C. The Mitsubishi F-1 entered service in 1978 and is still listed on the JASDF web site, but it has now been replaced by F-2s . Now, 42 F-35As will begin to replace the 80-plane F-4 fleet, but that won’t be the end for Japan.
The JASDF introduced the F-4EJ in 1973. It currently serves mostly in anti-shipping and other “permitted” strike roles, though it can also be used for air defense and policing. The RF-4EJ reconnaissance version will be replaced by F-15Js with special pods, and Japan has indicated that they will begin retiring the rest of the F-4 fleet early in the 2010s.
Japan has top-tier manufacturing experience, but they also had a qualitative and quantitative problem. Japanese firms have already produced F-15Js under license, and designed and produced the Mitsubishi F-2 in conjunction with Lockheed Martin. The F-2 is larger than an F-16 and has more range, but its performance doesn’t compare to an F-15, and it costs nearly as much. The F-2s won’t be built in expected numbers, which means they cannot replace the F-4EJs and RF-4EJs.
The Japanese had important choices to make, and the 2010 tsunami sharpened that urgency by destroying 18 of Japan’s F-2 fighters. Then China pushed things to the next level, unveiling its J-20 twin-engine stealth fighter prototype.
The Phase 1 plan was for Japan to choose a future F-X fighter by the end of 2011, buy about 50, and begin receiving them in 2016. Meanwhile, Japanese industry is trying to figure out how to keep itself busy now that license production of F-15 components and F-2s is ending. The Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies’ proposal involves producing F-X fighters and their F-XX follow-on buy until 2028, and having some of those 100-120 planes replace existing F-15Js as well. That would be followed by a Japanese fighter design, to begin development by 2017 based in part on lessons learned from their ongoing ATD-X stealth technology demonstrator. Japan hopes to fly ATD-X in 2014-2016, and the SJAC’s idea was that its successor could enter production around 2028, as the foreign-designed F-X fighter line closed down.
When choosing their initial F-X buy, the Japanese had several options.
The Winner: F-35 Lightning II
If stealth is desired, Lockheed Martin’s plane is considered a “second best” option to the F-22. While other contenders have sharply reduced their radar signature when compared to planes like the F-16, the F-35 is significantly ahead because it’s designed for stealth from the outset, including internal weapon bays. As China moved to introduce its own J-20 stealth fighter, that criterion seemed to eclipse all others in Japan’s thinking. “Joint Strike Fighters” also offer exceptional performance in the reconnaissance role, while its set partnership model smooths technology transfer issues. That transferred technology is very important to the Japanese, who are quietly working on stealth fighter concepts of their own. Finally, the F-35 will be widely used, offering commonality with key allies and ensuring a steady stream of upgrades without requiring steady Japanese investment.
On the negative side, the F-35′s single-engine design would be a concern during maritime combat air patrols, as it increases the odds of having an engine issue cause the complete loss of the fighter. Beyond that, the F-35′s industrial structure is largely set, its development delays could make on-time deliveries a problem, any early deliveries will cost well over $100 million per plane, and its declared status as a strike fighter clashes somewhat with Japan’s avowedly defensive posture.
Rising tensions in the area led Japan to conclude that it needed good ground-attack capabilities as an explicit requirement, and based on their mathematical analysis of submitted information, Japan concluded that the F-35A was more capable all around than other fighters with proven records. The choice was announced in December 2011, and agreement to buy up to 42 fighters was signed in June 2012.
Media reports aren’t completely precise, but they seem to suggest that Japanese F-35As could eventually fly with up to 40% Japanese manufactured content. Reports and documents indicate that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will be involved in work on aircraft bodies, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. on mission-related avionics, and IHI Corp. on engines.
The F-35B’s STOVL (Short Take Off, Vertical Landing) capabilities might make it an especially valuable future option, as a defensive aircraft that could operate from dispersed land locations, rather than bases that are easily targeted by enemy missiles.
It has a shorter range than other variants, but Japan is also fielding 18DDH Hyuga Class helicopter carriers for roles like disaster response, and will soon field larger 22DDH Izumo Class ships. They’re called “helicopter destroyers,” because Japan is currently prohibited from operating aircraft carriers, but it should be noted that other countries are planning to operate F-35Bs from comparably-sized ships. This very fact may inhibit Japan from ordering the F-35B, despite its potential usefulness as a land-based fighter.
Japan had other options, too. They included:
Boeing: The Traditional Supplier
Boeing and its predecessor firm McDonnell Douglas supplies the JASDF’s F-4s and F-15s. Their next-generation choices included:
Upgraded F-15s Japan could have chosen to go ahead and buy “kaizen” F-15Js at a comparable cost, possibly with the AESA APG-63v3 radar being fielded by Singapore. Additional capability boosts would come from attached pods like ReeceLight or SHARP for reconnaissance, or combination recon/targeting pods like LITENING or Lockheed’s Sniper ATP.
The concern in Japan is that this option could leave them without an air-to-air advantage against current PLAAF SU-30MKK aircraft, let alone potential future upgrades like the SU-35, or China’s J-20.
Boeing’s new F-15SE “Silent Eagle” appeared to be aimed directly at these concerns. It adds a number of important advances that will help it hold its own with currently-fielded fighters, and is optimized for the kinds of long-range, over-water combat patrols the JASDF requires. In full-stealth mode, its strike capability is sufficiently secondary that it need not raise alarm bells, but it’s still present.
While a combined F-15 Kai/ F-15SE buy appeared to be the easiest move, things did not work out that way. Boeing did not submit the F-15SE, and F-15 upgrades will have to be a separate, future issue for Japan. Instead, it submitted…
F/A-18Ei Super Hornet. The base for Boeing’s submission was the AN/APG-79 AESA radar equipped Block II model, and the F/A-18F model has already been sold to Australia. The “Super Hornet International Roadmap” is on the drawing board, adding improved radar signature, the ability to carry weapons in low-RCS underwing pods, better defensive systems, an advanced wide screen cockpit display, and more fuel capacity without increasing drag.
The other Super Hornet option for Japan would be even more exotic. Some of Australia’s Super Hornets are being fitted to receive electronic warfare equipment, which would allow conversion to EA-18G signals intercept and jamming fighters. That’s a unique capability, but Japan’s avowedly defensive posture makes it much less useful to them than it is to other countries.
Even with the EA-18G option, the Super Hornet was an odd bid choice. Beyond the electronic attack role, it’s less capable than the most current F-15 models, such as Singapore’s F-15SGs. Its main benefits relative to the F-35 and European options involved a low price in the $60 million range, the potential for significant license-production in Japan, and future commonality with Japan’s main defense partner, the US Navy.
The Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale were seen as possibilities, and coupling them with the MBDA Meteor long-range air-air missile might have been very attractive, given Japan’s needs. Price is likely to be close to the F-35, and similar to the option of buying more F-15s.
Dassault Aviation declined to participate with its Rafale, and Saab’s single-engine JAS-39 Gripen NG wasn’t a contender, but Eurofighter campaigned hard. Their plane is a very capable twin-engine air superiority aircraft. Tranche 1 versions have very limited ground-attack capabilities that would satisfy “defensive-only” criteria, while the latest “Tranche 3″ offers a good set of multi-role capabilities. The plane’s carriage of the long-range Meteor missile, and integrated IRST system that can find even stealth aircraft by their heat signatures, offer another pair of advantages over American contenders.
The Super Hornet raised questions of comparative capability relative to China’s new fighters, while industrial and technology sharing remain issues for the F-35, so the Eurofighter had a chance. Their platform did well, but Japan rated theoretical capability very highly, and their desk-bound mathematical analysis hurt Eurofighter. The Typhoon was seen as the most fuel-efficient plane, and its bid had the best industrial benefits for Japan. On the other hand, EADS and BAE had trouble meeting Japan’s purchase cost targets while giving Japanese firms all of that work, and picking it would have meant deviating from Japan’s strongly American industrial links and equipment infrastructure. That’s no small move, in a society that sets such store by deep industrial relationships.
What They Really Wanted: F-22s
F-22J-EX. The F-22 was at the top of Japan’s wish list, due to its unmatched aerial performance, high level of stealth, and twin-engine design. In February 2006, a Lockheed Martin official confirmed that a proposal to sell Japan F-22s in some form of downgraded “international variant” was working its way through the Air Force with the support of the Japanese government. At the time, it was “at the three- or four-star level” and among civilian decision-makers. The request was pursued at the highest levels of government, but the USA killed the fighter by refusing to export it.
Japan’s combination of long sea zones and growing rivalry with China make a long-range, twin-engine, supercruising andunprecedented stealthy interceptor with reconnaissance capabilities a natural choice. Leveraging existing Japanese partnerships with Lockheed and Boeing made it nearly irresistible. With it, Japan would have had unquestioned air superiority over its territory for the foreseeable future.
There were clear American advantages to a sale. The USAF originally intended to buy 700-800 F-22 fighters, but that was cut to 442, then 381, and finally to just over 180. That left USAF planners concerned, even as foreign projects like Russia & India’s PAK-FA/SU-50, and China’s J-20, prepared to challenge US air superiority. If upgrades and proliferation led to confirmed fighter overmatch against US aircraft within the next decade, an active F-22 production line would have had considerable strategic and financial value.
On the negative side, the F-22′s extensive capabilities made many in the USA very nervous risking security breaches of its electronic architecture, stealth aspects, or next-generation data links. Licensed Japanese production, a standard requirement for other Japanese fighter deals, would be unlikely – or extremely limited if allowed. The aircraft’s $137-160 million base flyaway cost also gives pause, since a Japanese buy would require significant and expensive changes to the plane’s electronics. Some estimates placed the cost of an F-22J at around $250 million per plane.
Japan never had a chance to find out, as political moves within the USA blocked all F-22 Raptor exports. The USA was left to support its shrunken fleet all by itself, which includes financing a very expensive set of electronics upgrades over the next several years.
Japan’s F-X: Contracts and Key Events
2013 – 2014
Feb 4/14: Bottakuri. Costs continue to rise for Japan, and F-35Js could end up costing YEN 300 billion each. Meanwhile, Japan’s new 5-year Mid-Term Defense Plan will buy just 28 F-35s by 2018, of a 42 plane order that would see 38 assembled in Japan under a final assembly and checkout deal. At that rate, they won’t make the target of completed deployment by 2021 without a high 2019 order surge. Meanwhile, prices have already climbed from the original YEN 9.6 – 9.9 billion agreement to YEN 14.95 billion each for 2 jets in FY 2013, and YEN 15.4 billion each for 4 more in FY 2014.
“Added to this are plant and tooling up costs of [YEN] 83 billion for 2013 and [YEN] 42.4 billion for 2014 as Japanese companies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Electric and IHI establish assembly and production lines…. Sources here have privately begun to refer to the F-35 deal as a “bottakuri bar,” referring to establishments that lure customers… and force them to pay exorbitant bills through a range of excess charges for items not mentioned explicitly on the menu….. locally produced versions of US kit generally cost double their US prices…. Kiyotani said the F-35′s costs could climb to more than [YEN] 300 billion a fighter.”
Abe’s decision to print money at astronomical rates (q.v. Aug 22/13) is going to worsen this problem by dropping the exchange rate. The Yen has lost 28% of its value vs. the US dollar since June 29/12. Defense analyst Shinichi Kiyotani is quoted as saying that lack of specifics in Japan’s 10-year plan reflects uncertainty over the country’s ability to afford the F-35, and its 200 F-15Js and 90 or so F-2s will eventually need replacement. What to do? Sources: Defense News, “Future of F-35 Unclear as Costs Mount in Japan”.
Aug 22/13: Local non-discount. The Asahi Shimbun reports that Japan’s F-35As will be noticeably more expensive than their American counterparts, due to the cost of incorporating Japanese-made parts. They’re correct in general, but their figure is misleading.
The US government has reportedly authorized 24 engine and radar components to be produced in Japan, accounting for about 10% of the plane’s value, and that number is expected to grow with additional approvals. Overall, IHI Corp. will manufacture 17 engine fan and turbine parts, while Mitsubishi Electric Corp. will produce 7 radar system components that include signal receivers. Parts for the rear fuselage, wings, and undercarriage will come from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and other Japanese contractors. That will help Japan gain important experience for its own stealth fighters, and build on the composites manufacturing expertise gained in its F-16-derived F-2 program. The government has reportedly budgeted YEN 83 billion (about $844.1 million) in FY 2013 for F-35 related industrial infrastructure, including new facilities at an MHI factory in Aichi Prefecture.
The problem is that Japanese firms will be manufacturing only for JASDF F-35s, sharply raising per-part costs. The 2 aircraft ordered in 2013 will be the first with Japanese parts, and are now budgeted at YEN 15 billion (see also Sept 6/12, now about $153.5 million) each. Japanese sources cite it as a jump from YEN 10.2 billion (+47%), but sources when the contract was signed cited YEN 9.6 billion. Which makes the new figure seem like an even bigger jump of 56.3%. The real jump? Just 27%. On June 29/12, the equivalent dollar value for YEN 9.6 billion was $120.9 million per plane. A jump to $153.5 million is only 27% in real terms.
Abe may be more hawkish than his predecessor, but running the money printing presses full-bore will make it much more expensive for him to execute on those promises. Sources: Asahi Shimbun, “Japan-made parts to push up price of F-35 fighter jets for ASDF” | New Pacific Institute, “Japanese Companies to Manufacture 10 percent of each of Japan’s F-35As”.
Aug 13/13: 22DDH & F-35. A New Pacific Institute blog post looks at the new 22DDH/ Izumo Class “helicopter destroyer,” and its suitability for F-35s. The author doesn’t believe the ship is very suitable, as it would require expensive modifications that include a new landing surface, much greater munitions storage, greater aircraft fuel capacity, and possibly even new aircraft elevators. A ski jump isn’t 100% necessary, but would be important for good performance. Even after all of those expensive modifications, F-35 carrying and servicing capacity would be very limited, and the pilots would need expensive naval aviation training. It might be a good “lily pad” to extend air defense range in the southern sectors if Japan ever buys (very expensive) F-35Bs, but that’s about it.
Bottom line? The ship’s design makes it better suited to the helicopter and disaster operations it’s publicly touted for, and those needs alone are likely to keep the ship busy. NPI, “Does the Izumo Represent Japan Crossing the “Offensive” Rubicon?”
March 25/13: Long-lead. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $40.2 million fixed-price-incentive (firm-target), contract to provide long lead-time parts, materials and components required for the delivery of 4 Japanese F-35As, as part of Low Rate Initial Production Lot 8. See also June 29/12 entry.
Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. All funds are committed immediately, and this contract was not competitively procured by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD, who is acting as Japan’s agent through the FMS process (N00019-13-C-0014).
Feb 15/13: Industrial. Jane’s reports that Mitsubishi Electric Corporation is no longer banned from bidding on Japanese military contracts, now that they’ve finished paying the National Treasury back for previous overcharges in defense and space contracts. The ban could have affected MEC’s planned involvement in providing avionics and other products to Japan’s F-35A fighter program.
F-35A DSCA request and contract; How the F-35A won; The future of stealth debated.
Nov 9/12: Industrial. Japan may begin receiving F-35As by 2016, but local industrial participation faces a number of barriers, due to Japan’s 1967 arms export guidelines. Media reports say that current plans to allow participation in the multinational project, under amended arms export guidelines, wouldn’t lead to deliveries of Japanese F-35A avionics, or of exportable parts for the main wings and tails, before FY 2017.
Sept 6/12: Bottakuri. More cost hikes for Japan, as defense officials Defense Ministry officials cite “lower production efficiency” as the reason its next 2 F-35As will be YEN 15.4 billion (about $195 million) per plane and initial spares. The initial budget was YEN 13.775 billion per plane for the first 4, which works out to an 11.8% increase.
The ministry is trying to find the full YEN 30.8 billion for the FY 2013 budget request, in order to cover the 2 fighters in it. The Japan Times.
July 2012: Why the F-35 won. The Japanese Ministry of Defense releases its “Defense of Japan 2012” White Paper. Among other things, it explains exactly why the F-35 won. All 3 contenders fulfilled all mandatory requirements, but the F-35 was rated as the overall winner based on the 2nd stage evaluation of capability, industrial participation, cost, and support. It’s difficult to tell whether the F-35A’s subsequent cost jumps would have changed this evaluation, if they had been admitted at the time. Based on what the government says it knew…
The F-35A was deemed to have the highest capability. This may seem odd for a plane with no exercise experiences or operational history, but the rating was done as a mathematical analysis, not a flyoff. Within the inputs that Japan received and believed, the F-35A scored highest overall, with a good balance of high scores across air interdiction, weapons and targeting, electronic warfare capability, and stealth target detection capability.
Eurofighter won the industrial participation segment with the highest level of domestic participation, but had a harder time keeping its local manufacturing proposals within Japan’s prescribed cost bracket. The clear inference is that Japanese Eurofighters would have cost more than other customers have paid.
The F/A-18E+ Super Hornet International was best for purchase cost, while the Eurofighter Typhoon had the lowest expected fuel expenses. The F-35A eked out a “Gilligan win” here by placing 2nd in both sub-categories, and by avoiding the need for “renovation expenses.” Japanese KC-767s don’t mount pod and drogue refueling systems, which is what the Eurofighter and Super Hornet require. The Lightning II uses the same dorsal aerial refueling system as existing JASDF fighters, which avoids the need for KC-767 or C-130H refits.
In terms of support and maintenance costs, the F-35A was given the highest score, due to its in-depth, fleet-wide ALIS maintenance and diagnostic system. Having said that, all 3 contenders proposed performance-based logistics (PBL) based on delivered availability, so all 3 scored the same.
June 29/12: Buy 4, for more. Officials from Japan’s defense ministry say that they have agreed to terms for their first 4 F-35As, despite a 9.1% price increase. The price hike was caused by American cuts, which have shifted 179 aircraft out of the order book over the next 5 years. The planes will reportedly cost 9.6 billion yen (about $120 million) each over the entire buy, up from the original plan of $110 million. American officials said they could not offer the Japanese a lower price than other partnership nations. That makes the Japanese contract a good bellwether for the real base cost of an F-35A in the near future.
Fortunately for the Japanese, the overall contract remained at the expected YEN 60 billion (about $752.4 million). The cost of the 2 simulators and other equipment dropped to YEN 19.1 billion ($240.83 million) from the expected YEN 20.5 billion. Defense News | Fort Worth Star Telegram | Reuters.
May 1/12: F-35A DSCA request. May 1/12: The US DSCA formally announces Japan’s official request for an initial set of 4 Lockheed Martin F-35As, with an option to buy another 38 and bring the deal to 42 aircraft. “The Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s F-4 aircraft will be decommissioned as F-35′s [sic] are added to the inventory.”
The aircraft would come with Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engines, and Japan would also want up to 5 spare engines. Other components of the deal would include Electronic Warfare Systems, Reprogramming Center support to keep those EW systems current, additional software development and integration, a fight trainer system for the F-35, other forms for personnel training & equipment, transport to Japan, ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System) maintenance support systems, US government & contractor support that includes ALGS (Autonomic Logistics Global Support); and initial spare parts, technical data, tools & test equipment.
Implementation of this proposed sale will require multiple trips to Japan involving U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, programs management, and training over a period of 15 years to conduct Contractor Engineering Technical Services (CETS) and ALGS for after-aircraft delivery.
The estimated cost is $10 billion, which works out to $238.1 million per plane. Until a set of contracts are signed, it’s hard to split that accurately between purchase and support costs, and long support deals can add a lot to costs. Japan is also interested in considerably more local assembly than most of F-35 buyers, which is likely to add a number of unique costs of its own. Even so, the announcement has a ripple effect in Canada, where its huge cost per fighter draws a new round of questions about the plane. US DSCA [PDF] | Canada’s Postmedia.
April 2/12: Stealth’s future? A Japan Today article goes straight to the main military point at stake: the future effectiveness of stealth technologies:
“As more nations develop stealth fighters, then the use of radar as the main target acquisition device will be taken over by infrared, wake tracking, electro-optics, and radio/electronic chatter detection – thereby side-stepping radar stealth features – in short order.”
It’s a bit more complex than that, especially given the fact that stealth tends to be optimized for certain frequencies, so radars will still play a role. Still, the falling cost of high-bandwidth networking, and the need for a counter to stealth technologies, does suggest a range of countermeasures over the coming decades.
Feb 22/12: Negotiations. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura conveys Japan’s determination to stick to agreed prices and supply schedules for Japan’s F-35s, after Japan’s Sankei newspaper cites unidentified US government officials as saying that Japan had threatened to cancel its orders if prices climbed.
“When we were selecting the fighter, we asked those making the proposals to strictly observe their proposed prices and supply schedules. Japan has conveyed this to the US from time to time…”
The question is whether this matters. Once a contract is signed, backing out becomes so difficult that for practical purposes, it’s impossible unless the price increases are wildly egregious. The time to back out is before any contract is signed. After that, the contract’s own structure and penalties must serve as a government’s insurance. Reuters UK.
F-35A chosen as F-X; F-35 technical issues; China unveils J-20 stealth fighter prototype.
Dec 20/11: Winner! Japan’s Ministry of Defense announces that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II has won the F-X competitive bid process for 42 planes. The initial contract will be for 4 F-35A jets in Japan Fiscal Year 2012, which begins April 1/12. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2016. Japan’s Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa reportedly said at a news conference that:
“…of the four parameters [performance, cost, industrial, and support], the most important was performance. When we think about our national security needs for our future fighters, we have to consider various security environments, and the movements and changes by various countries. In view of this we need to have a fighter that is capable of responding to these changing needs.”
The reported budget for Japan’s initial 4 planes is YEN 55.1 billion (about $706 million, or $176.5 million per plane and initial spares). Overall, the cost is expected to be YEN 9.9 billion (about $127 million) per plane, with spares. On the industrial side, a final assembly and checkout facility is expected in Japan, as well as work on components. Reports and documents indicate that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will be involved in work on aircraft bodies, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. on mission-related avionics, and IHI Corp. on engines.
As F-4 replacements, the F-35As will have an air defense role, but Japan does have a large cadre of dedicated F-15Js to perform that mission. Note that there’s still an F-XX program in the future, aimed at replacing Japan’s F-15Js. Numbers as high as 100+ planes have been floated, but that will depend on both economic straits, and local geopolitical threats. Japan Ministry of Defense [ in Japanese] | Lockheed Martin | Pentagon | AFA Magazine | BBC | Bloomberg | The Diplomat: interview, and Flashpoints blog | Defense News | Gannett’s Navy Times | Reuters | UK’s Telegraph | Wahington Post | Yahoo!
Dec 13/11: F-35 problems. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and POGO obtain an internal Pentagon “Quick Look Review” dated Nov. 29, which says the F-35 is headed for serious technical troubles. The overlap between testing and production has been a sore point for the US GAO in particular, as significant changes due to failures revealed in testing will require expensive retrofits of produced fighters, along with the extra costs of changing future production. Even as operational aircraft were being bought, from June 2010 – November 2011 there were 725 change requests for the fighter, of which 577 are still not yet available to implement.
Major issues issues raised included unexpectedly severe shaking (“buffet”) during high-speed maneuvers, problems with the helmet system’s night vision display, and frequent failures of an important electrical component that can knock out power and affect both oxygen and cockpit pressurization. The team also expressed concern at the slow progress in developing and testing the plane’s combat roles, including “certain classified issues” that especially affect air defense performance. Star-Telegram | POGO.org, incl. full Quick Look Review | Australia’s Herald Sun | The Hill.
Nov 4/11: Super Hornet International. Boeing continues to discuss Super Hornet International designs. Not much has changed beyond earlier releases that noted improved F414 EPE engines, a large touch-screen panel, warning systems with 360 degree spherical coverage, and conformal fuel tanks to extend range. They do mention that the dorsal conformal fuel tanks will have a similar center of gravity to the aircraft, and that up to 3 weapon pods would be able to carry 4 x AMRAAM/ 2 x 500 pound/ 1 x 2,000 pound bomb each, while keeping the plane’s radar signature low. That’s in line with earlier reports, which touted 2 x AMRAAMs and 2 x 500 pound JDAMs per pod, but the 2,000 pound JDAM is new. So, too, is confirmation that the new design would have additional radar shaping to lower its cross section further.
With the Super Hornet out of contention in India, Japan appears to be the main target, though the Super Hornet is also being marketed to Brazil, Greece, Denmark, Kuwait, and Qatar, among others. Aviation Week.
Sept 26/11: F-X RFP submission deadline. Boeing confirms that it’s offering the F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet, which has also been exported to Australia. Boeing also makes the stealth-enhanced F-15SE design, but appears to have decided not to offer it.
Eurofighter GmbH submits the Eurofighter Typhoon, with BAE acting in a lead role. While the submission is described as “cost effective,” the firm is not explicit regarding the status of the submitted aircraft: new, or used.
April 13/11: RFP. Japan issues the Request for Proposal for its F-X fighter competition. Source.
March 2/11: Eurofighter. During high level visits, British officials continue to press the case for the Eurofighter as Japan’s future F-X fighter, over offerings from Boeing (F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or F-15SE Silent Eagle) or Lockheed Martin (F-35A/B/C). One interesting wrinkle is that reconnaissance capabilities could become an important requirement, a move that would give the F-35 family an edge. BAE et. al. are fighting an uphill fight, but they’re not alone: in January 2011, the European Business Council in Japan launched a defense and security committee to promote defense-related business cooperation. Asahi Shimbun | Japan Times | L.A. Times.
Jan 18/11: China’s J-20. The Wall Street Journal reports that China’s unveiling of its J-20 stealth fighter has creates ripples in the region:
“Tom Burbage, general manager of the F-35 program for Lockheed Martin Corp., said Beijing’s progress in developing the J-20 has created a “stronger sense of urgency” throughout the Asian-Pacific region about air-force modernization. He said Japan, South Korea and Singapore are now engaged in bilateral discussions with U.S. government officials over the F-35… Mr. Burbage said the U.S. government has asked Lockheed to provide preliminary information on how it could build the Joint Strike Fighter with Japanese industrial input, building either major subcomponents or completing final assembly in Japan… on aircraft for its own military inventory.”
2008 – 2009
Efforts to buy the F-22 fail, Japan looks at other options.
Nov 23/09: F-35. In the wake of a FY 2010 American defense budget that ended F-22 production, while maintaining the ban on exporting the aircraft, Japan has been forced to look at other options. Kyodo news agency reports that Japan is considering buying 40 F-35s, and that the Japanese defense ministry is seeking fiscal allocation in the 2011 budget. According to media reports, the plane beat the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, F-15 Eagle variants, and EADS’ Eurofighter. The acquisition plan is likely to be incorporated in new defense policy guidelines and a medium-term defense plan to be adopted in December 2010.
The F-35s are estimated to cost YEN 9 billion (about $104 million) each; that’s a rather low figure, when compared to actual expenditures by the USA and Australia. If the reports are true, the critical question would become: what model of F-35? The F-35C’s longer range might suit Japan very well, while the F-35B’s ability to make use of highways and helicopter carriers would add a very interesting wrinkle indeed. Japan Today | Agence France Presse | domain-b | Times of India.
Oct 4-7/09: F-35. The Japan Times reports, and Jane’s confirms, that Japan is negotiating a requested payment of about YEN 1 billion (around $11 million), in order to receive “sensitive” information about the F-35′s capabilities. Japan wanted the F-22, and is reportedly still considering it; the government is also reportedly looking at the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault’s Rafale, Boeing’s stealth-enhanced F-15SE, and its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The Japan Times adds that:
“It is rare for a country to be charged such a large sum for information on potential imports of defense equipment. The U.S. also told Japan that Washington will not provide information on the F-35′s radar-evading capabilities until Tokyo makes a decision to purchase it, the sources said.”
One wonders about the wisdom of that sales approach, if true.
July 31/09: F-22. The US House passes “H.R. 3326: Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010” by a 400-30 vote. The final version strips out F-22 funding. As House members prepare for negotiations with the Senate on a single, final bill to send to the President, the amendment vote, and subsequent passage of HR 3326, effectively marks the end of the F-22 program. F-22 production will continue through remaining funded orders, and cease in 2011.
Both the House and Senate versions of the 2010 defense authorization bill require a report to study the potential for F-22A exports. The House version listed only Japan, while the Senate bill did not restrict the countries involved. Development work would be required before production, however, which creates real problems. While it’s theoretically possible to bridge that time gap by resurrecting the American program in future defense bills, the aircraft’s supply chain will stop producing certain parts, and begin losing the people associated with them, long before the final delivery in 2011. That makes a production line restart in 2013 or beyond a very difficult and expensive proposition for potential export customers like Japan. See also: Aero News.
F-22 program ended
June 5/09: F-22. Reuters reports that US Senate Appropriations Committee chair Senator Daniel Inouye [D-HI], has sent sent letters on the F-22 issue to Japanese ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, and to American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Inouye reportedly supports repeal of the 1998 “Obey Amendment” that bans F-22 exports, and the USAF is also said to have decided to support exports to select countries. Reuters adds that there is even growing Congressional support to repeal the Obey Amendment in the face of North Korea’s stepped-up belligerence, and the prospect of significant job losses if F-22 production is closed per Gates’ FY 2010 budget. The exact quote from one of their sources is “…decent support, but it’s not a slam-dunk.”
The senator confirmed sending the letter, but would not discuss its contents. Reuters claims that the letter conveyed some conclusions from a recent USAF study, which placed the estimated cost of developing an F-22 Export version at about $250 million per plane, assuming a production run of 40-60 planes. The USAF study also reportedly assumed that production of an F-22EX would begin in 4-5 years, with delivery beginning in 7-9 years following a re-start of the F-22 production line.
That price tag is about $80-100 million above the cost of a more-capable F-22A. It factors in average costs per plane for production line restart, and for substituting and integrating replacements for components that the USA still does not wish to export. The final cost per plane could certainly end up being higher, if the development and integration program runs over budget. It could also be lower, but only if the substitution program meets projections and one of 2 things happens: (1) The production line is not shut down, due to Congressional appropriations over the next 3 years; and/or (2) More F-22EXs are bought to spread out the F-22EX program’s development and restart costs, via additional Japanese buys or by adding other countries as F-22EX customers.
May 19/09: F-22. A Japan Times article looks at the barriers to F-22 fielding on the Japanese side of the equation, and concludes:
“In sum, Japan’s acquisition of the F-22 would involve significantly increasing defense spending, rethinking the domestic production of weapons platforms and implementing a more robust legal and enforcement framework to protect classified information. Under current circumstances, these developments are not in the cards.”
Given that some of the F-22′s material/manufacturing methods are considered to be among its more sensitive technologies, domestic manufacturing in Japan is unlikely to be an option at all.
April 6/09: F-22. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announces his recommendation to terminate F-22 orders at the end of FY 2009, leaving the USA with a fleet of 187 aircraft.
March 17/09: F-15SE. Boeing unveils the F-15SE “Silent Eagle,” which appears to be aimed directly at Japan. The aircraft has slightly canted vertical tails to improve aerodynamics and reduce weight, minimal additional radar shaping, the addition of coatings to improve radar signature further, and a pair of conformal fuel tanks with cut-in chambers for 2 air-to-air missiles each, or air-to-ground weapons like the 500 pound JDAM and 250 pound GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The tanks would be swappable for traditional conformal tanks if desired, and weapons could also be carried externally. BAE’s DEWS electronic self-protection system would be fitted, along with Raytheon’s AN/APG-63v3 radar that will equip all Singaporean F-15s and be retrofitted to the American fleet.
The intent appears to be to offer a “budget Raptor” in the $120 million range, with a basic radar signature that’s competitive with newer fighters like the similarly-priced Eurofighter Typhoon. Advantages would include better radar signature when internal carriage is used for long combat air patrols or limited precision strikes, a superior and proven AESA radar, longer range, and more total carriage capacity if necessary. On the flip side, it would not provide the same maneuverability options as canard equipped contenders like EADS’ Eurofighter or Dassault’s Rafale. The total package would come closer to parity with the SU-30MKI/M and subsequent versions of Sukhoi’s offerings, but may or may not measure up against longer-term opponents like Sukhoi’s PAK-FA or China’s J-XX. From Boeing’s release:
“Boeing has completed a conceptual prototype of the CFT internal-carriage concept, and plans to flight-test a prototype by the first quarter of 2010, including a live missile launch. The design, development, and test of this internal carriage system are available as a collaborative project with an international aerospace partner.”
That partner could also be Israel, which has now expressed interest in the F-15SE, and also made its own requests for F-22s.
Dec 28/08: F-22. Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper reports that the country is likely to drop its attempts to buy F-22s, amid signs that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s new administration may halt production of the aircraft.
Congress has yet to weigh in, however, and a consensus for continued production could easily change the odds for exports as well. Defense News report.
Oct 10/08: Eurofighter. Flight International’s “Eurofighter gets serious about Japan’s F-X contest” discusses political developments:
“If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said that the Typhoon did not have a chance due to the close US-Japan ties. I am no longer sure of that,” says a Tokyo-based industry source close to the Japanese defence ministry. “Washington’s continued refusal to release information on the [Lockheed Martin] F-22 has strained bilateral defence ties, and Japanese politicians and bureaucrats are eyeing the Typhoon as a viable alternative to the other American fighters that are on offer.”
Flight International’s sources indicate that Japan will make one more push in 2009, after the American elections. If that fails, it is likely to abandon efforts to secure the F-22, and move to buy other options.
July 16/08: Eurofighter. BAE executives interviewed at Farnborough discuss the Eurofighter’s opportunities with Japan if the USA refuses to sell that country F-22EX fighters. BAE says that is willing to share more of its technology with Japanese companies, establishing Japan as a so-called home market where it manufactures and sells products. Current BAE home markets include the U.K., the USA, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Saudi Arabia.
The executive also mentions that BAE is looking hard at India and South Korea for future growth, adding that Defense spending in Korea will be greater than in the U.K. within 5 years. Bloomberg News.
2006 – 2007
Japan pushes for F-22, but is undermined by pro-China interests; USAF F-22As deploy to Kadena, Japan.
Nov 15/07: F-22. The Lexington Institute’s quick brief “Asian Security: Japan Needs Better Tools To Do Its Part” weighs in, in favor of Japan’s case:
“The F-22 is the Air Force’s new top-of-the-line fighter, far superior to any other fighter in the world in its agility, survivability and versatility. It’s so capable that policymakers aren’t inclined to export it, even to trusted allies like Japan. But does that really make sense if Raptor is the plane best suited to protecting the Japanese home islands against cruise-missile attack or preempting a ballistic-missile launch by North Korea? It sounds like Washington is saying it wants Japan to play a bigger role in regional security, but with inferior weapons — or that the Japanese will have to depend forever on America to do the really tough missions… if we really want the Japanese to be partners in regional security, we should be willing to trust them with other top systems too — especially since they’re the one ally we have that isn’t inclined to export weapons.”
July 24/07: F-22. Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said he has recommended that the F-22 Raptor not be sold to Japan. His comments came during a briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and concern a new U.S. “capabilities assessment group” of Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Office of the Secretary of Defense and industry officials who are reviewing Japan’s fighter requirement. Defense News.
June 28/07: CRS on F-22. The US Congressional Research Service issues its report re: selling F-22EX aircraft to Japan (last revised: July 2/07). The report itself is completely non-committal, as it sketches out the options. While the USAF and defense industry are solidly behind the idea as a way to keep the F-22 production line alive, there is some opposition in Congress. Key paragraph:
“The executive branch proposes and Congress reviews arms sales on a case-by-case basis. The sale of F-22s to Japan raises both broad questions about the security environment in East Asia and questions that are specific to domestic interests. Factors that argue for a transfer include potential benefits to U.S. industry, contribution to the defense of allied countries, and promoting U.S. interoperability with those countries. Factors that argue against a particular arms transfer include the likelihood of technology proliferation and the potential for undermining regional stability.”
Increased Chinese capabilities and the need for a longer-range, twin-engine jet with the ability to take on modern SU-30 family jets is mentioned in the report body, but the military capability drivers are sidestepped and this is not highlighted as a key issue in favor. Japan’s policy of domestic production and license-building is mentioned in the document as a potential stumbling block, but it, too, is absent from the summary paragraph. CRS reports also tend not to present counter-arguments or responses to objections/contentions, as an attempt to remain “above” political debate. That tendency is also present here, and weakens the report as an analytical document. In a particularly interesting side note, however, the CRS report adds:
“A final industrial base issue pertains to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Although originally intended to be complementary aircraft, F-22 and JSF capabilities, development, and production have converged. Implicitly if not explicitly, these aircraft are competing for scarce procurement funds. Extension of F-22 production would likely bring these aircraft into even sharper competition.”
May 23/07: Given the Raptor’s top secret status, American trust in the purchasing country’s security levels and intentions is a significant part of any export decision. Israel’s past defense cooperation with China, for instance, which included sales like “Harpy” anti-radar drones without timely US notification, has created serious issues. It led to temporary suspension from Israel’s observer status in the F-35 program, and is also widely seen as a serious impediment to its current request for an export version of the F-22.
International espionage is a constant of international relations, and victimization is assessed differently; but sufficiently serious leaks can also have repercussions if they indicate a systemic problem, or happen at a high enough level.
Details are sparse, so it’s difficult to assess the true importance of recent developments in Japan. Reuters reports that classified data on the USA’s AEGIS naval radar/combat system, SM-3 missiles, and Link 16 tactical data net had been “leaked” in Japan. Local media said authorities believe that computer disks containing the classified data were illegally copied and circulated among dozens of students and instructors at a naval college in western Japan. The reports follow a police raid on Saturday of a naval college in western Japan over a “leak of data” in March 2007 when police found one of the disks at the home of a Japanese naval officer in Kanagawa during a separate investigation of his Chinese wife over her immigration status. AEGIS, SM-3 missiles, and Link 16 are all key nodes in Japan’s outer layer of its initial ABM defense system. Link from Taiwan’s China Post | Associated Press.
May 18/07: F-22. Bill Gertz, Washington Times: “Pro-China officials in the White House and Pentagon are quietly undermining Japan’s request to buy 50 advanced F-22 jet fighter-bombers, to avoid upsetting Beijing’s government, according to U.S. officials familiar with the dispute… Both the Air Force and the F-22 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., favor building an export version… The F-22 export is a major test of U.S. support for Japan and is being watched closely by Japanese government officials who are worried Washington will not back Tokyo and instead kow-tow to Beijing on the sale.”
April 30/07: F-22. Japan applies to buy fighter Australia rejects. The USA’s stated willingness to consider Japan’s F-22EX request re-ignites controversy in Australia, in the wake of the Australian government’s attempt to defuse the issue by maintaining that the USA will not sell the F-22 abroad.
April 27/07: F-22. Japan has yet to receive clearance for F-22EX fighters, but discussions are progressing. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency: “Seoul eyes advanced jets beyond F-15K” contends that the issue of F-22 exports to Japan will be under discussion during the imminent summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The decision will be watched closely by South Korea, which also wants 5th generation fighter jets for its 3rd phase F-X purchase. An excerpt:
“China is modernizing its air force at a rapid pace,” said Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian Affairs at the White House National Security Council. “And so we are very positively disposed to talking to the Japanese about future-generation fighter aircraft.”
Japan has worked to improve its diplomatic and military relations with the USA, stressing its reliability as an ally and collaborating on sensitive technologies like missile defense. Hence the current situation, in which exports of the F-22 can be discussed with some odds of success. South Korea, which has made a very different set of choices, is unlikely to be received as positively.
April 20/07: F-22. Flight International reports that Israel has approached the USA about acquiring Lockheed Martin F-22s, as concern mounts about new threats to the IAF’s regional air superiority from proposed sales of advanced US weapons to the Gulf states, and Israeli assessments of a growing threat from Iran. Sources say that the issue was raised during a recent one-day trip by US defense secretary Robert Gates to Israel.
While unrelated to the Japanese request, and very uncertain for reasons of its own, the Israeli request raises both the pressure to create an F-22EX version, and the perceived market & benefits from doing so.
Feb 17-18/07: F-22. Kadena Air Force Base (AFB), Japan received 10 F-22A Raptors in the aircraft’s first overseas deployment. The F-22As are assigned to the 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, VA, and are under the command of Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver. The aircraft started their deployment with a stop at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, but a software issue affecting the aircraft’s navigation system was discovered on February 11th, causing the aircraft to return to Hickam. The issue was corrected and the aircraft continued on to Kadena.
The 27th FS deployed more than 250 Airmen to Kadena for the 90-120 day deployment, which is part of a regularly-scheduled U.S. Pacific Command rotational assignment of aircraft to the Pacific. See USAF release.
Feb 11/07: F-22. The F-22A’s first foreign deployment, to Kadena Air Force Base (AFB) in Japan, runs into a serious problem. The aircraft started their deployment with a stop at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, but a software issue affecting the aircraft’s navigation system was discovered on February 11th, forcing the aircraft to return to Hickam without navigation or communications.
October 2006: wide spectrum of opinion in Australia (including the opposition Labor Party) is also pushing for an F-22EX request, based on arguments and strategic needs that are very similar to Japan’s. At the moment, however, the current Liberal Party government remains absolutely committed to the F-35A as its only future fighter force option.
September 2006: DID’s “Japan Looking to Expand Missile Defense & Military Spending” report looks at Japan’s current security situation, and political-economic shifts that may be very consequential for its defense market.
Feb 18/06: F-22. Inside Defense’s Air Force Plans to Sell F-22As to Allies offers a fuller discussion and analysis of Japan’s F-22 bid.
fn1. Reader Keith Jacobs informs DID that despite the JASDF listing of 7 F-1s in service, “The JASDF marked retirement of the F.1 with a six-aircraft flypast at Tsuiki Air Base (Kyushu) in 2006 (forgot actual date – but Feb or March if I remember correctly. They were aircraft of the 6th Hiko-tai (the final squadron unit). 6th Hiko-tai has now transitioned to F-2A and has its full complement of aircraft of the new fighter. JASDF also retired the last Fuji T-1B, assigned to the 5th Technical Training School and dispersed them to museums (as they did the T.3) from Komaki Air Base. “ The date of that retirement at Tsuiki was March 6/06.
Background: Japan’s Plans
- Japan Ministry of Defense – Defense of Japan. Annual white papers.
- Japan Ministry of Defense – Number of Major Aircraft and Performance Specifications. 2007 snapshot.
- DID – Eurofighter’s Future: Tranche 3, and Beyond
- DID – The F-35′s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy
- DID – Super Hornet Fighter Family MYP-III: 2010-2013 Contracts. Any Japanese purchase would fall under the US government’s multi-year purchase terms, and would effectively extend this production period.
- DID – Lockheed & Mitsubishi’s F-2 Fighter Partnership
News & Views
- New Pacific Institute, Japan Security Watch (Aug 13/13) – Does the Izumo Represent Japan Crossing the “Offensive” Rubicon? Conclusion: no.
- Aviation Week (Oct 22/12) – Japan Aims To Launch F-3 Development In 2016-17 [dead link]. See also News of Japan abridged version. Now known as “F-3″ instead of “i3″, this would be a Japanese-designed stealth fighter as a follow-on to the F-35. Hence the importance of industrial offsets. If F-3 progresses slowly, opportunities open up for more F-35s.
- Bloomberg (Sept 2/11) – Lockheed Stealth Jet May Win Japan Deal. Speculative analysis. Suggests that stealth is a very important criterion for the Japanese.
- Aviation Week (June 11/09) – Boeing Studies Stealth Eagle Options [link now broken]. Interesting point made re: retrofits and stealth sales: “It’s not how low can you go, it’s how low are you allowed to go, and the U.S. government controls that,” says Brad Jones, Boeing program manager for F-15 future fighters. “We can get to different levels depending on the country.”
- Japan Times (May 16/09) – Hurdles to a Japanese F-22
- USA Today (July 12/07) – Japan may hold key to F-22′s future, thousands of jobs
- US Air Force Association Magazine (June 2006) – “Air Force Alliance” for the US and Japan. There have been major changes in the alliance over the last few years, as the level of cooperation between the 2 countries has grown by leaps and bounds.