*Source: DTN News / Aviation Week By David A. Fulghum (NSI News Source Info) TOKYO, Japan - July 28, 2009: The Japanese government has its worries - North Korean ballistic missiles, advanced Chinese fighters and cruise missiles, as well as disputed islands and a dearth of bases and modern aircraft to protect them. These problems are coupled with a military force structure that cannot expand and a defense budget that is unlikely to grow. Such pressures are forcing the government to carefully sort through conflicting priorities that include: · What specifically should be protected? · What are the modernization options? · How should an international expeditionary force be fielded that would not be seen as a military threat by its neighbors? The government also is trying to shake off the need to rely so heavily on Japanese industry, which has produced, for example, extremely expensive versions of the F-16 fighter and the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter. To date, Japan has modernized with Aegis destroyers and Patriot PAC-3 interceptors to counter ballistic missiles; KC-767 aerial tankers to extend deployment ranges, and E-767 AWACS to help monitor the approaches to the mainland. However, the military does not have a supersonic cruise fighter like the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor to chase down cruise missiles and replace the geriatric F-4J Phantoms, or long-endurance UAVs to ensure constant monitoring of islands and sea lanes that stretch almost to China.
Also missing are low-collateral-damage, high-precision guided weapons to discourage invaders of far-away islands and long-range airlifters to allow participation in international activities such as anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean or natural-disaster relief to neighboring countries. Meanwhile, political and budgetary problems in the U.S. and an unstable government in Japan make F-22 acquisition a long shot.
Killing production for the U.S. Air Force would make the aircraft too expensive for the Japanese and focus the defense ministry on alternatives such as the Eurofighter Typhoon. The latter, along with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will constitute Britain's high-low mix of advanced fighters.The Japanese government reportedly showed interest in buying F-22s in its Replacement-Fighter program for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). If it were to occur, it would most likely involve a "watered-down" export variant while still retaining most of its advanced avionics and stealth characteristics. However, such a proposal would still need approval from the Pentagon, State Department and Congress. In addition the high per aircraft costs and the very high operating expenses would require a lifting of the popular 1 percent of GDP military budget ceiling in Japan. On 9 June 2009, Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said that Japan still seeks the F-22. On 21 July 2009, the United States Senate voted in favor of ending F-22 production. The House had budgeted for an additional 12 aircraft. The two versions of the 2010 budget must now be resolved in conference before facing President Obama who has threatened to veto any additional aircraft. Moreover, getting the green light for the F-22 from the Japanese parliament is not a sure thing. Because of his growing unpopularity - underscored by a big loss by his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in local elections this month - Prime Minister Taro Aso called for a general election on Aug. 30, more than a month earlier than anticipated. The public discontent with Aso and the LDP is fed by a prolonged recession, which could affect defense acquisition.
"The Japanese want the F-22," says Lt. Gen. Chip Utterback, commander of the 13th Air Force at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. "But they are actually looking for a capability and not a particular aircraft. It's just that the F-22 is the only fighter in the world that can do what they want. They see the [foreign] threat horizon not getting any better. They understand that as [foreign] capabilities increase, they will need the ability to look and shoot from a long way off". "I got to fly the Su-30MKI [the Indian variant of China's Su-30MKK]," he says. "I did everything I possibly could to put it out of control and couldn't do it. It's extremely stable and responsive. It's much more reliable and capable than the MiG-29." In general, the Japanese want the Raptor's supersonic cruise (about Mach 1.6) and an operational altitude of 65,000 ft. for a larger radar and electronic surveillance footprint. Other attractions of the Raptor are an active, electronically scanned array radar with a range of about 130 mi. - which is, incidentally, about the range from the western edge of the Japanese Southwest Air Div.'s area of responsibility and the east coast of China - and the ability to find small objects such as cruise missiles and other stealthy aircraft. The Raptor also provides the radar reflectivity of a steel marble; this would allow it to close in on invading aircraft without being detected. "The F-22 gives the U.S. an ability to get inside the [enemy's air defense] threat rings - to be offensive and to do things we can't do with conventional fighters," Utterback says. "The Japanese have a different perspective. They want to optimize their capabilities to defend the homeland. F-22 gives them that standoff defensive capability. The F-35 does not. "The Japanese are good pilots and tactically capable," he says. "I have been flying with them since 1979. Today, it is a competent and capable air force, and they are imaginative in their tactics." In Japan, there has always been the discussion of whether to focus on an expeditionary military or one that is focused on the defense of Japan. The question is, Can the budget afford both? "An easy case can be made that if you target your investments the right way - whether it be lift, sustainment, ISR or C4 systems - you can build capability that gives you both options," says a Tokyo-based U.S. official who monitors Japan's defense activities. "I believe the Japanese government is dedicated to both sets of missions. How they get there will be the challenge. They've already gone down the path of inflight refueling [KC-767], long-range lift [C-X], and the Huaga-class destroyer with helicopter capability that can be used for humanitarian operations. Completing those capabilities will drive budget discussions." "In balancing force structure, a smaller force with fifth-generation stealth capability begins to make sense when you're defending your home island," says Utterback. "For us, smaller numbers impact on the ability to be forward. They could do it with less." Japanese industry's choke hold on defense spending appears to have slackened owing to the pressures of functioning in a global economy. "[Japanese-based] industry remains an important factor in procurement decisions, but it's not the overarching force it used to be," says the U.S. official. "Twenty years ago when the Japan Air Self-Defense Force [JASDF] didn't have such a critical operational role working with the U.S. in responding to threats, there was a bit more willingness to indulge in domestic production as a priority. Now the overriding concern is operational effectiveness and capabilities."
An example of the new formula is Japan's spin-up of a ballistic missile defense force. The government relaxed export controls, which allowed Japanese and U.S. industry to jointly develop the Block 2 Standard Missile-3. The aim is to find ways to procure the best systems while allowing Japanese industry to work with partners to expand their markets and develop access to new technology. "We share a desire to see Japan have a healthy defense industrial base," the U.S. official notes. "In fact, we'd like to access it more because Japan excels in many areas, and we rely on them for many systems. The best example is research and development funding for [continuing upgrades to] the SM-3 program. Although there was a hit to the U.S. ballistic missile defense budget, Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates expressed a clear commitment to continue and even accelerate the SM-3 program, which in turn relies on Japan's know-how and investments. (It also is the only country besides the U.S. that produces Patriot missile parts.) Now Japan can do more on both the production and R&D sides. It is good for both our industries and allows us to make decisions based on capabilities and requirements." Symbolic of the change is the Japanese government's decision to significantly curtail the AH-64 Apache program. It is built in a coproduction program that is much more expensive than buying it off-the-shelf. "That was a shot across the bow in terms of the new direction," the U.S. official says. "It will be interesting to see if it gets industrial buy-in." A litmus test for the new acquisition model may be the F-X and F-XX programs. As conceived, the F-X would notionally be 40-50 high-performance supercruise fighters, similar to the F-22 or the Typhoon, followed by the F-XX program that has requirements to match the F-35 JSF. If the F-22 is eventually approved for export, there is very little that Japanese industry would be able to build for it. Defense officials say Japan needs a high-speed, high-altitude fighter to cover its massive, island-rich area of responsibility that stretches to within 150 mi. of China. "The [Japanese] moved F-15s to Okinawa a couple of months ago to replace the F-4s," the U.S. official says. "That suggests how important the JASDF considers that area of operations. There has been a lot of attention paid to their desire for the F-22s. There was a peak of interest after Secretary Gates's remarks about the Fiscal 2010 budget, that the U.S. Air Force would stake its future on the F-35. As alliance partners, both countries are concerned about interoperability, especially now that they are facing an increasingly complicated security environment and tight budgets." Interoperability, joint basing, training and operations are part of the chosen path. There has been progress in making Japanese bases available for the dispersion of U.S. and allied aircraft in a military emergency. Part of the 2006 package of realignment agreements was an aviation training relocation project. It takes fighters temporarily to bases to which the U.S. has not before had access to conduct joint training with the Japanese air force. The U.S. and Japan would like to expand this program because of the flexibility gained by deploying and rotating, which improves emergency response. Anti-piracy operations constitute another area that is driving political and policy decisions on security. Japanese involvement also would provide justification for buying aerial tankers, maritime patrol aircraft and long-range transports. "This is a watershed event for Japan," the U.S. official says. "The public views this as the Japan Self-Defense Forces doing something halfway around the world that is for the protection of Japanese lives and interests." How the nation chooses to invest its military funding will be of international interest. For example, long-range airlift in still in its infancy. But with operating forces based thousands of miles away, the issues of communications, supply and sustainment arise. In addition, the need is validated for an expeditionary capability that can be used for missions such as humanitarian aid and disaster relief.