Monday, April 23, 2007

Raptors for Japan?

Last week, we noted the Air Force's long-standing opposition to potential exports of the F-22 stealth fighter. From the service's perspective, it made little sense to share our most advanced technology with any foreign customer, even long-time allies like Israel and Japan. Past experience shows that advanced technology has a habit of winding up in the wrong hands, even with stringent export controls.

One the most recent--and infamous--examples of an illegal technology transfer is the Lavi fighter program, a joint U.S.-Israeli venture that began in the 1980s. The Lavi program was aimed at developing an advanced, multi-role fourth-generation fighter, based on the U.S. F-16. American taxpayers provided much of the funding for the Lavi, while the Israelis supplied the bulk of the technical expertise. Unfortunately, the program proved too expensive and was ultimately scrapped.

So what happened to the Lavi? Many of the Israeli experts--and the technology--made their way to China, where they formed the foundation of the F-10 fighter program. The F-10 is virtually a clone of the Lavi, with an advanced air intercept radar, avionics, and Russian-made, active-radar, air-to-air missiles. As we noted recently, the F-10 isn't a world-beater, but it's easily the best fighter the Chinese have built on their own (more or less), and it provides a foundation for more sophisticated aircraft in the future. By comparison, the F-22 is truly state-of-the-art, and the Air Force is (rightfully) concerned about the possible compromise of that technology through export sales.

Despite those concerns, the possibility of foreign F-22 sales may still exist. As Bill Gertz reported in the Washington Times last Friday, Japan would like to purchase up to 100 Raptors, and that has ignited a debate within the administration. Pro-China elements at the White House and the Pentagon oppose the deal, which would (obviously) upset Beijing. On the other hand, officials concerned about China's growing military power support the proposed export deal, noting that the Japan sale could cause a shift in the region's balance of power. For the near term, the U.S. is planning only limited F-22 deployments in the Far East, with Raptor squadrons in Alaska and Okinawa. Japan's acquisition of the Raptor--even for defensive purposes--would force China to realign its advanced fighter force to meet that challenge, at the expense of basing along the Taiwan Strait.

Raptor sales to Japan would also keep the Lockheed assembly line open past the projected shut-down date, which means more jobs and revenue in states like Texas and Georgia. The Air Force also hopes that foreign interest might spur our own government to buy more F-22s. Beset by rising costs, the U.S. Raptor purchase may be limited to only 179 jets, well below what the service wants. Keeping the production line open would give the Air Force (and its supporters) a chance to lobby Congress for a bigger "domestic" buy.

But there is a risk in that strategy. First, convincing Congress to buy more F-22s will be a tough sell, despite its technological supremacy. With the Army and Marine Corps trying to overcome a decade of under-funding, it's difficult to persuade lawmakers to purchase additional Raptors, at almost $300 million a copy. Secondly, approval of exports to Japan will bring demands for sales to other U.S. allies, including South Korea, Israel, and even Saudi Arabia. Ensuring the security of F-22 technology in those countries would be more difficult, reflecting internal security issues, or (in the case of Israel) a willingness to share it with other countries.

F-22 exports will be on the agenda when President Bush meets with Japan's Prime Minister later this week. Resolution of the issue will take longer, and shape the course of the Raptor program for decades to come.


Galrahn said...

I know it is complicated, so I thought I would pass this on.

One roadblock to more Raptors is the aircraft's high cost. Estimates for the fighter jet range from as little as $132 million to as much as $312 million. So far, the Air Force has invested as much as $28 billion in the Raptor's research, development and testing. That money, referred to as a "sunk cost," is already spent and is separate from money used for future decision-making, including procuring a copy of the jet.

By the time all 183 jets have been purchased, around $28 billion will have been spent on research and development. An additional $34 billion will have been spent on actually procuring the aircraft. That's about $62 billion for the total program cost. Divided out, that's comes to about $338 million per aircraft.

But the reality is, if the Air Force wanted to buy just one more jet, it would cost the taxpayer less than half that amount. The current cost for a single copy of an F-22 stands at about $137 million. And that number has dropped by 23 percent since Lot 3 procurement, General Lewis said.


In other words, for Japan to get in the F-22A game you can estimate about 150 mil per aircraft, or about 12 billion for an entire wing of F-22s plus spares.

The cost is a major factor for another reason though. The US currently does about 3 billion arms agreements and sales with Japan per year, a F-22A deal would increase that by around 60% or more when you consider the 'stuffs' that go with a deal for aircraft.

Wanderlust said...

Considering that some people wanted to encourage Japan to go nuclear after Lil'Kim's latest weapons test [mis]adventure (as a means of restraining NoKo), selling Raptors to them might be a better means to a similar end.

As I recall, someone estimated that Japan was sitting on a lot of plutonium that, if converted to nuclear weapons, would allow Japan to deploy hundreds of nukes. Fears by China and NoKo that a nuclear Japan would re-ignite long-dormant Japanese aggression would likely spark off one hell of an Asian arms race.

By comparison, allowing Japan to acquire Raptors would be enough to tie up Chinese and NoKo resources without fear of nuclear proliferation.

Now, if you allow Japan to buy the F-22 towards the end of its procurement schedule, and don't rush deliveries, allowing them to acquire it might actually be a good thing.

Or, at least, the lesser of several evils.

Besides, the Chinese seem to enjoy allowing NoKo to have a loose leash, so that Lil'Kim can shag the leg of Uncle Sam while the Chinese quietly labor to improve their armed forces posture. Wouldn't be great if we could turn China's strategy back onto them, and let the Chinese worry and fret about strategic military threats for a change?

jobob said...

One of the clearest explanation of the cost of the F-22 I have seen

Would you like to try to do the same to the F-35, a cost comparison of the two would be nice.

Red River said...

The other issue is interoperability and battlespace managment.

The F22 has unique capabilities from a C3I perspective that directly impact the effectiveness of the Theater Commander and the Air Generals.

The US already has a unique relationship with the JDF on the C3I level that is reflected in the Japanese procurement and of AWACS and AEGIS as well as training and integration with the US.

Leaving the F22 out of this mix will create a hole in the C3I capabilities as well as the interoperability of US and JDF forces. Not being able to base and forward deploy F22s to Japan without a deep logistical tail in Japan is also a minus.

By selling the F22 to Japan it will signal to Japan that we are there for them and that the US-Japan relationship is almost on par with the ones we have with Australia and the UK.