Friday, February 09, 2007

Japan Looking at Major Defense Upgrade

In the wake of the nuclear tests by North Korea, and the more general growing concern about instability in the region, a lot of attention has been focussed on the possibility of Japan developing nuclear weapons. While worthy of a tremendous amount of attention, there is an equally significant story getting none: the possibility that Japan may soon be the one and only US ally allowed to purchase and operate the world's most advanced fighter plane - the F-22:

There have been a couple stories in the media lately about the possible sale of F-22s to Japan. The story goes something like this: "China has started developing more advanced fighter jets in a bid to match the state-of-the-art F-22 U.S. combat aircraft, sparking a regional arms race . . . Taiwan plans to acquire 60 F-16 C/Ds from the United States [those plans are currently "frozen"] while Japan is prepared to buy a number of F-22s . . . "

The F-22 is hands-down the most advanced fighter in the world, despite a few early problems the Air Force is still working out. But the plane is so expensive, and the technology so sensitive, that exporting it was never seriously considered. However, if they were to be sold, Japan, with its massive defense budget, its close proximity to China, Russia, and North Korea, and its cozy relationship with the United States, is, in the opinion of Loren Thompson, "the only plausible recipient."

Thompson said the sale was still "pure speculation," but with the F-22 scheduled for it's first overseas deployment to Japan's Kadena Air Base in just a few days, the Japanese will have a chance to see the plane up-close for the first time. There are a number of reasons why the Japanese would be interested in purchasing the aircraft according to Thompson. Foremost among them, according to a Pentagon study Thompson had seen, it would cost the Chinese approximately $300 billion to build an air defense network capable of thwarting the stealthy, supersonic fighter. At that price, the F-22 would serve the Japanese as a very "significant deterrent." Furthermore, Thompson said that while only Russia, and to a far lesser extent China, are capable of fielding a fighter that would be competitive with the F-22, the threat from North Korea might lead to a number of scenarios where a stealthy, supersonic aircraft would be of great value to the Japanese.

Undoubtedly, China would not be thrilled if Japan suddenly had one of the world's best fighter fleets, and was able to operate over North Korea.

Read the whole article, over at the Weekly Standard. The photo is theirs. Strategy Page has also written on this a few times.

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