Expensive Tastes

Posted by lex, on April 23, 2007

If you think kobe steak is expensive, you should see what the Japanese MoD has an appetite for:

Top Japanese military officials are quietly but firmly insisting they want the U.S. to release the F-22 to compete for the air force’s F-X fighter program, and are adamant about fielding the most advanced air-combat technology available.

Tokyo wants a stealthy fighter equipped with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for cruise missile detection and wide-band data links to push additional information into Japan’s increasingly sophisticated air defense system. For the moment, only the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor offers all these features.

I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on one myself, but for the Japanese it’s less a matter of preference than it is proximity – and pride:

What may change the formula is the growing awareness of cruise missile technology proliferation and the fact that little attention has been paid to fielding cruise missile defenses in Japan, which is only a few hundred miles from North Korea and China and would be the most vulnerable from a surprise attack.

“Once the Japanese politicians realize that it’s a matter of national survival, not just national pride, it could generate support outside the Japanese Self-Defense Force,” the industry official says.

Industry can always be relied upon to support the notion of selling more fighters, while unit costs to the Air Force are reduced through foreign military sales, potentially resulting in greater airframe purchases against the same budget.

While there are always concerns about the export of top-tech gear, there are strategies to deal with those concerns: Most of the groovier capabilities these days exists inside mission computer software, rather than hardware and it’s well within the do-able range to modify software releases for allies and place tamper-proof lockouts elsewhere. On the other hand, one could certainly argue that an active, electronically-scanned array radar and stealth technology involving both wing design and radar absorbent materials pushes the margins of what has been exported out significantly.  

Australia went with the SuperHornet as a bridge to the much more affordable (and stealthy) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter rather than purchase F-22 Raptors at $120 million per copy, but Japan isn’t interested in bridging technology.

If the export concerns can’t be overcome there will always be an alternative path for the MoD to pursue:

The Eurofighter Typhoon is already being pitched for Japan. A variant fitted with an active “E-scan” radar array and the Meteor rocket-ramjet radar-guided air-to-air missile would offer a capable air superiority platform.

It’s the eternal challenge for tech-oriented force: Trying to affordably stay one step ahead, while keeping your allies on side from both a political and industrial standpoint.

It’ll be interesting to see where this one goes.

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Military

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