U.S. Tempts Japan With New F-22 Jets

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 12, 2007; 4:26 AM

TOKYO -- For thousands of workers in Georgia, Texas and California, the question of what aircraft Japan chooses to replace its aging fighter jet fleet could mean their jobs.

Because the U.S. Air Force is scaling back its orders of the stealthy F-22, selling the costly fighter to an ally could be the only way to keep the multibillion dollar producton from ending. Japan _ which has expressed interest and is one of the few countries with deep enough pockets _ could be the only realistic buyer on the horizon.

Congress repeatedly has banned the sale or license of the F-22 "Raptor" to any foreign government. The latest attempt to repeal that ban was shot down in the Senate earlier this year.

But the risk of losing thousands of skilled jobs is raising pressure on Congress to export the fighter. Japan's tantalizing interest could help turn the votes around.

During a summit with President Bush in April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe brought up the F-22 issue, according to Japanese media reports.

The Air Force, meanwhile, sent a dozen F-22s from Langley Air Force Base, Va., to Okinawa, Japan, in February for a three-month deployment. It was the first time the fighters had been sent on a mission outside of the United States.

Officials said the deployment provided training for the pilots, and one payoff was the discovery of a glitch in the fighter's software that controlled the on-board clocks.

"The deployment allowed us to take the plane on an around-the-world shakedown," Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, commander of the U.S. forces in Japan, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The airspace around Okinawa provides a great training opportunity."

Wright said the F-22 deployment was not part of an sales pitch. But the mission also gave the Air Force a chance to show off its plane.

While at Okinawa this spring, two F-22s and two F-15 Eagles took part in mock air battles with four F-4 Phantoms and four F-15s from Japan's Air Self-Defense Force. Japan is searching for a replacement for its F-4s, in service since 1973.

Japanese officials were impressed by the F-22's features, including radar-evading stealth design and "supercruise," the ability to fly at supersonic speed for extended periods without using the jet engine afterburners, thus saving fuel and further reducing the likelihood of detection.

The F-22 was originally designed to counter the threat of advanced Soviet Su-27 fighters during the 1980s. Though that threat has diminished for the United States, Japan now is seeking to counter China's fleet of those same fighters.

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