April 27, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The U.S. government recently hinted that it may sell F-22 Raptor fighter jets to Japan. It would be the first overseas sale of the fifthation stealth fighter aircraft.
"We're happy to discuss supplying next-generation fighters to Japan," said Dennis Wilder, the senior director for East Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first visit to Washington scheduled on April 26.
"China is spurring modernization of its air force and North Korea's missile and nuclear capabilities comes as a threat to Japan. All of these explain why the Japan's Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) requested the future-generation fighters," Dennis added.
The Raptor is a likely candidate for the JASDF's Replacement-Fighter program in summer 2008.
In mock battles with F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighter jets, the F-22 achieved a 144:0 kill-to-loss ratio. The South Korean Air Force, composed mainly of F-15 and F-16 fighters, would probably be powerless in front of the Japanese Air Self Defense Force equipped with F-22s.
Note that much of the credit goes to the F-22's stealth feature, which makes the fighter jet undetectable by radar. The F-15, 16 and 18 were simply unaware of the approaching F-22 until they came in range of its mid-range air-to-air missiles dozens of kilometers away.
The export of the F-22A however is banned under federal law until 2015 and needs approval from the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon. Its high cost (US$200-US$300 million per Raptor) also may be an issue. Japan was also considering buying F-15FXs first and F-22s later. The F-15FX is the advanced version of F-15J and F-15DJ, the mainstay of the JSADF, and its price is less than the half of a Raptor.
The Japanese government has allocated 1 trillion Yen (~ 8.4 billion USD) for its Replacement-Fighter Program which seems to be largely insufficient to acquire the F-22.
China surprised the world by shooting down a satellite with its own missile and increasing its fleet of nuclear submarines. A decade later, China is about to launch its own fleet of aircraft carriers.
Japan doesn't want to sit by idly as China arms itself and the U.S. is seeking to counter China by aggressively supporting Japan's missile defense systems and by boosting the country's air force and naval capabilities. And Washington could be considering selling F-22s to Japan in an effort to manage the security order of East Asia based on the U.S.-Japan alliance.
The United States Air Force deployed 12 F-22 fighters at Kadena Air Base in southern Japan's Okinawa prefecture in late February. The deployment ends in May. Japan’s Ministry of Defense proposed a joint drill between United States Air Force pilots and JSADF pilots, and the joint military training is to be held around Okinawa on April 27.
Neighboring Northeast Asian nations are sensitive to Japan's possible purchase of F-22 fighters. When the Washington Times reported, "Japan wants to buy as many as 100 F-22 fighters" on April 20, Chinese media expressed concern, saying that it will break the 20-year military balance of the Taiwan
China has already started developing its next-generation fighter J-13 and 14 in a bid to challenge the F-22. Although China is planning to field the new jets by 2015, it will accelerate its deployment once Japan purchases F-22s. Taiwan and other countries will also beef up their military strength, sparking an arms race in Northeast Asia.
In a separate move, Japan is apparently developing its own stealth fighter jet modeled on the F-22.
Raptors for South Korea?
South Korea is in a double bind: a nuclear and biological missile threat from North Korea and being trapped between a fierce armament race between China and Japan. They cannot just sit back and watch what the U.S., Japan and China are doing.
Seoul unveiled its ambition today to also procure fifth-generation fighter jets such as F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, to keep up with the air superiority of neighboring powers. This clearly shows they are reexamining its air force reinforcement plans, which were centered around F-15K fighter jets.
But there is also no way of knowing whether the United States would sell the F-22 to South Korea. And even if it does, South Korea will find it hard to purchase the F-22, which costs up to double the price of an F-15K. With GDP growth only in the four percent range, South Korea is facing a tough time looking for ways to protect itself in Northeast Asia, where it is stuck between North Korea, which is unwilling to give up its nuclear program, and China and Japan, which are about to embark on an armament race.
Raptors for Israel?
The United States would also be inclined to allow the sale of the F-22 Raptor to the Israeli Air Force if the State of Israel's security was in jeopardy, former US Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen told The Jerusalem Post Thursday night.
While Congress and the Pentagon would be hesitant to release classified technology like the F-22 to Israel, "if it came to a question of Israeli security, I am confident they will come to help."