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Japan Shopping Around Amid US Stealth Jet Ban

The F-22
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) July 26, 2007
Japan said Thursday it would not rule out buying next-generation aircraft from a third country due to the US ban on exporting its state-of-the-art F-22 stealth fighter. Japan has officially been pacifist since World War II but has been gradually expanding the role of its military, in part due to concern over nuclear-armed North Korea. The United States, Japan's primary ally, has banned all exports of its F-22 Raptor, which is built to evade radar detection at supersonic speeds.

"It is essential to continue seeking information on the quality of state-of-the-art fighter jets developed by foreign countries," chief government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters.

"We will keep seeking cooperation in gathering information," he said.

A defence ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Japan was looking at six models of aircraft including the Raptor.

Also on the list are the Eurofighter, designed by a European consortium, and the F-35, built by the United States and Britain, the official said.

"One of the deciding factors is whether the fighter model can address any possible threat from the air anticipated over the next 20 years in which the nation uses it," Vice Defence Minister Takemasa Moriya said separately.

Kyodo News, citing unnamed sources, said Japan may delay the planned upgrade of its air force in apparent hope that Washington will change its view.

Japan may push back its goal of replacing its fleet of 91 F-4 jets -- modelled on US Phantom bombers -- in the 2008 fiscal year, Kyodo News said. Japan also has in service more than 100 F-15s built under license.

A US House committee on Wednesday passed its military appropriations bill for the 2008 fiscal year without lifting a ban on selling the Raptor overseas.

Despite the congressional prohibition on exports, the United States has pledged to defend its key Asian ally and flew the Raptor to Japan this year on its first foreign flight.

"The United States is committed to working with Japan as Japan chooses its future fighter aircraft, to find the appropriate capabilities for a strong and credible alliance," a State Department statement said Wednesday.

But some US officials have voiced concern about security in Japan after Japan's navy leaked secret information about the US-developed Aegis system, which guides missiles.

A Japanese petty officer has been arrested over the leak. He raised suspicion as his wife is Chinese, which could prompt concern China might be trying to spy on Japanese military hardware.

However, according to one account, the leak was an accident caused by the officer swapping pornography computer files with his superiors.

Shiozaki said that Japan was working to prevent leaks.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported earlier this week that the defence ministry was looking for funds to design the prototype of a Japanese stealth fighter, partly in hopes of persuading the United States to sell the Raptor.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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